Sunday, 12 April 2015

Reforming the Reformations...

Is a 'Reformation' designed by a reaction of violence?
Language  can be a crucial as well as confusing tool, changing according to perspective. This is evident in terms of era of ‘Reformation’ in Britain, what could now be seen as used as an umbrella term to describe the conversion of the state religion from Catholicism to Protestantism. This may well have been advocated as a ‘reformation’ by those driving it, with positive connotations especially championed by protestant bodies. Even in historical study of Scotland, this positivity has been championed as the case by  protestant historians, giving rise then to a kind of ideological determinism. After all, the Scottish reformation is often cited as  a time of the ‘rise of the people’s church’ ie. The kirk. However, in this article it will be argued that the Scottish reformation was aggravatory rather than reforming, actually driven by elites, potentially even more so than events in England.

In comparison to the English reformation, which is often assumed as a process being undertaken by The Act in Restraint of appeals and papal limitations imposed by Henry VIII as early as 1533,  the Scottish reformation  was much later (in the 1550’s) – this in itself suggesting it was driven with an intensity by elites. There were origins  of protestant thought beforehand of course, for example contact with the teachings of Erasmus and also D'etpales; considerable French influences desirous for the removal of abuses from the Catholic Church. The teachings of these two men could be seen as part of a wider intellectual culture of humanism popularised in Britain – especially through French connections – in this light foreshadowing that the Scots could use their French connections to bolster their reactions, especially as many resented  the French assumption of power in the ‘Auld Alliance’. Yet these ties and intellectual connections were ultimately driven and decided by elites, apparently summarised in the rancour rather than ‘reform’ of Patrick Hamilton returning to Scotland in the 1520’s, influenced by the teaching of Protestantism amongst merchants, only to be burned at the stake by Cardinal Beaton.

Archbishop David Beaton of St Andrews, and the last Cardinal of Scotland (he was related to James V, especially significant when relations between James and his uncle Henry VIII became strained)

England’s reformation was also bloody, but it appeared driven not only by the elites but by the people – having an impact which could be seen as more ‘reformatory’ in nature. For example, the Act in Restraint of Appeals and Cranmer’s in introduction of a new prayer book uptaken by many, saw real constructive change – attempting to usurp one religious structure with another, as following on from the dissolution of the monasteries in 1536 onwards. It may have been readily accepted by more of the working people also than in Scotland – whose highlands and islands were difficult to penetrate – as seemingly complementing the reforming drive of the lollards some years earlier. The catholic church in England had been under pressure to reform for some time, especially regarding outdated monasteries, and therefore Henry’s VIII’s movements may well have been seen as more ‘reforming’ by the people, however, elites  still had a significant extent of power as Henry VIII’s appeared unnerved by the actual impact of his reforms and introduced the Six Articles in an attempt to re-introduce some catholic elements. This is interesting as Henry VIII is often depicted as a hard-handed figure imposing the Church of England, yet actually showed a certain level apprehension and even wavering – executing Wolsey amidst this.

It is easy to at try and perceive  the ‘reformation’ for what we anticipate the definition to mean – the reform of the religion, when this was not wholly the case. However that Protestantism continued as a force on England and was still accepted under Edward VI’s and Somerset’s harder implementations, highlights a possibly greater ‘reform’ in the public acceptance of protestants. This was highlighted in that the people still largely received Cranmer’s new prayer book, whereas in Scotland the religious control seemed perpetuated by a select number of elites. James v seemed to avoid the theological changes  transforming England, as appointing Cardinal Beaton as  Archbishop of St Andrews to exercise  hard catholic values., the burning of two key protestant reformers by Beaton– Hamilton and Wishart, emphasizes that a key element of ‘reform’ was lacking.

The stones  marking 'PH'  outside St Salvator's Chapel, St Andrews, marking the place Hamilton was burned to death
However, one could also argue that ‘reform’ was lacking and actually a point of regression was occurring in England, as following Edward’s protestant exercises and death, his half-sister Mary, took to the throne, In turn began a series of anti-protestant measures in an attempt to impose the Roman Catholic church again – including the Marian persecutions in which 288 at least were executed. The use of ‘imposing’; church rather than reforming it seems the case for the reformation as a whole, including Scotland – the changing of religion associated with ‘religion’ often occurring out of violence rather than reform. Violence may have not appeared officially the case in terms of the work of Argyll as regent following the kings dearth – as he was pro-English, proposing the Treaty of Greenwich which would marry James Vs daughter Mary, to a French prince. This emphasizes the web of cultural dependencies, but ultimately also the inevitably of violence and imposition rather than reform, and these concepts were met with a coup from Beaton.  In many ways Beaton could represent what a  number of the Scottish lords and earls saw as unattractive and veering towards Catholicism rather than a constructive Protestantism. He was related to the king James V, who failed to pursue reform, and  was not typically someone to allow for compromise.

Martyr's Monument, St Andrews
Yet Beaton himself was assassinated in 1547, following the execution of George Wishart, a known supporter of the protestant cause. The  assassination was carried out by a group who became known as the ‘Castilians’ – a group of protestant-driven reformers, who could be seen as representing the people rather than elite – containing members such as John Knox. However, they were still incorporated as a bigger power battle of elites as at this time, Mary of Guise was regent of Scotland following Beaton, and ordered her French allies to storm the castle via the sea. The subsequent arrest of the Castilians by the decisions of an elite provided the opportunity for Scottish resentment to the French to develop further – and in this light, again, the ‘reformation’ may not be seen as primarily riven by reform to religion, but violence, in the form of national unrest. This reached a new climax in the Battle of Pinkie 1657, part of England’s apparent ‘wooing’ to seek Mary Queen of Scot’s hand by force, although many historians argue in terms of the then dispersal of protestant information amongst the people – the English and Scottish  troops meeting at Pinkie, this was seemingly part of a wider power competition rather than the reformation of religion.

Yet what about Ireland amidst all this?  The prerogative of the monarch did extend to Ireland afterall, considering that monarchs of early as Henry VIII’s were attributing their rule to Ireland also. This could be seen as matched in theory by Ireland, as following on from the acts of supremacy in 1534, the Irish followed by 1541 in introducing the title of ‘Kingdom’ to Ireland rather than a lordship. This brought potentially greater glory to the country but also the pressure of affiliation with a monarch – bound to be controversial in the light of a Protestant monarch over a largely catholic populace. From the Crown of Ireland Act 1542, Henry was now ‘king of Ireland’ – and now neither had to be subject to the papacy. In turn, Henry also rather forcefully arranged to be declared as head of the ‘church in Ireland’. The state churches in Ireland however did have less power and influence considering the country was already a place of significant Catholic  stronghold.

  Yet these movements could be seen as at a slower-place in Ireland compared with England aforementioned, and his lack of policy haste could also appear reflected as Cromwell’s attempt for dissolution of the monasteries in Ireland – which in reality did both affect many areas. This could imply that either the English government was being naive and limited policy performance in Ireland or actually limited/scared to act. The reality was perhaps is that they were limited and scared to act as Henry’s direct of authority as lord of Ireland and then king, only extended to the area of the pale immediately about Dublin. There was still much unexpectancy and therefore little way of guaranteeing that policy in relation to Ireland was even being carried out – though Henry VIII still determined and issuing the legislation for the closure of monasteries in 1537. Despite this pressure, many houses of friars still remained in Ireland and this apparent English inability to have lasting impact in Ireland was also reflected in that Edward VI’s act of uniformity had  few implications in Ireland, though much in England. 
King Edward VI (R28 January 1547 – 6 July 1553)

Yet what did have implication not  religious per se in Ireland but having effect in Ireland in the long-term was the systems of plantation, a process from 1556 to 1620.  It was a process ultimately of  colonisation starting with Henry, where Irish landholdings were given to wealthy protestant earls – thus English invasion and  negativity associated with Protestantism and thus unpopular in the eyes of many ‘old Irish’. Although the focus on Protestantism was  reversed by Mary during the Marian counterreformation, plantation still continued Under Elizabeth. There was initial relaxation in laws regarding Catholics but following the promulgation of the Papal bull in 1570, Catholics were increasingly seen as  a security threat. This threat accumulated in the two Desmond Rebellions (1569-83) and the Nine Years War, both overlapping with the anglo-Spanish war, where inter-territorial grievance occurred in that some of Catholic (confederate Irish) sided with the Spanish under Phillip II – Mary’s husband of Elizabeth.

 Slowly, an alliance was also forming  between Gaelic (old) Irish and the ‘Norman Old’ English who had Catholicism in favour; Protestantism slow to  spread due to the unstable nature of the country and its associations with colonisation.  By the reign of King James I, the start of toleration meant that Irish Catholicism could potentially strengthened itself and the treaty of London (1604) was signed with Spain, ending hostilities there.  However, the  plots against his life including the Gunpowder Plot in 1605  caused him to pit a  harder line toward Catholics . However, James’ attempted forcing of Irish people to convey to Protestantism seemed futile, and although there were an increasing number of Presbyterians entering Ireland in an attempt to influence, they served significantly to aggravate and would take issue themselves with royalty later.  It could be seen that at this time Irish culture became more  entrenched too, with  the Bishop of Kilmore, Bedell translating a Book of Common  Prayer into use.

Yet these methods of Irish cultural identification were seemingly a slow burn, like in Scotland, inevitably to accumulate in violence, thus can be seen in the Irish rebellion of 1641 who still held allegiance to Catholicism and/or the crown which  on the head of Charles I, which was being threatened by parliament and their compiling Militia Ordinance. The fighting of the wars of the three kingdoms would ultimately involve a largely catholic Ireland defending the old, old traditions of monarchy – thus entrenched in its beliefs rather than infiltrated by others.
Reflecting on the Irish Rebellion 1641

In turn, could it be appropriate to see the Scottish Reformation as a time not necessarily of reform, but of aggravation and therefore reaction?   However, Not only were English protestant ideas transferred into Scotland by the aggravated interactions of Pinkie, but  perhaps increasingly became seen as a method to separate identity from the regent, Mary of Guise, who was  French. In turn, it could appear that whilst Protestantism was an action for change in England, in Scotland, it could be seen as reaction against France and infringements on the national identity. This was potentially consolidated by limited action within church reform in Scotland   including the restricted impact of church councils under John Hamilton.  There was an evident want to separate the Scottish identity from that of the French, and in this way, Protestantism could  appeared as used as reactive force. This appears especially the case in the growth of privy kirks around this time, combined with the ‘confessional front’ of a potentially more accessible Anglicanism in England under Elizabeth from 1558.

 Elizabeth also issued The Act of Supremacy 1558 and the Act of Uniformity 1559 – which put her both at the head of the Church of England, but also made Anglican Sunday services compulsory. In Ireland, this meant that the populace was instructed to go to an appropriate Church of Ireland service every Sunday; significantly unpopular and typically unfollowed by the majority of the Irish who were Catholics, and perceived Protestantism as symbolic of English invasion.   The Marian exiles of Mary’s reign  were also spreading Protestant ideas in Scotland, though it could appear further the case that these took a particularly reactive rather than reformative Scottish element – working outside existing church structures and proposing new ones entirely; perhaps symbolised through the first bond’ of the lords of the congregation signed by Argyll.This largely noble-led effort in Scotland, often most predominant in privileged pockets could especially reactive when compared with England. At this time, what has since become known as ‘The Elizabethan Religious settlement’; was in operation -  on one hand attempting to bring an element of control to the public practice of faith. This was evinced  in the Act of Uniformity and Acts of Supremacy – both 1588 which served the dual-role of effectively putting Elizabeth at the head of the church, whilst also outlining structures for the public – including the  new payer books and Anglican Sunday services. In this light, the course of English Protestantism could be seen as driven from above and below. 

This  combination of high and low in terms of societal standing could be seen as also holding elements in Scotland, so not entirely noble but perhaps significantly facilitated by them,  as some historians note ‘The Beggar’s Summons’  of 1559 as the prelude to what has been since known as the reformation   crisis of 1559-60 (notably later than the  first stages of the English Reformation under Henry VIII). As this article has explored what appears ‘reaction’ rather  than reform, so to speak, could the period of 1550-60  be seen as  crisis in reaction? The reaction against French domination still evidently was a driving force, with Knox returning from chain labour imposed by the French in 1550 and thus bringing further reactionary zeal, tied in with Protestantism. However, the reaction was changing in terms of the  attitudes to the English – and in 1560 the lords actually appealed for help from England for the safe return of the Earl of Arran to lead the Lords of the Congregation. The signing of the Treaty of Berwick in 1559 showed that reaction had taken a key direction;  but was it Protestantism (moving towards Presbyterianism)  as reaction against French dominance and old-fashioned manipulation, rather than the actual form of religion itself?
Window in St Giles Cathedral, Lords of The Congregation

It could be seen that the new religious structures were just as corrupt as the old ones in many ways, rather than  a wholly new reaction. The first Reformation Parliament which met in  1560 seemingly ignored the Treaty of Edinburgh drawn up following the death of Mary of Guise – instead opting for a whole confirmed Confession of Faith. The Lords of the Congregation had evidently taken advantage and reacted  to the circumstances of the death  of the unpopular French Regent and the withdrawal of French and English troops. If England Scotland are to be compared at this point, Protestantism in Scotland could appear a reaction against national interference, whilst England’ s efforts could appear more actively reforming – or at least in concept; such as the Act of Uniformity. Yet this also exposes the above/ and below dichotomy as whilst England was attempting to co-coordinate the practice from below, Scotland was imposing it from above, This included the forcing down of a first book of discipline and tellingly, although the elites desired for ‘reformed’ ministers in each of approximately 1080 parishes, only 20 were filled by 1561. Thus a key difference is that whilst a much greater proportion of the populace were protestant in England following the slower course of reform, in  Scotland it appeared distinctly more ‘elite’ with many people still practising Catholics.

Therefore, this article suggests that the Scottish reformation can actually be seen more in the light of an aggrieved national reaction propelled by privileged circles rather than religious overhaul. It could be easy to assume this for the English reformation too – socially it is easy to judge Henry VIII’s decision or reform as driven by ulterior motives. Yet under Edward especially and in the public’s continuance of Protestantism despite the Marian counter-reformation, this signifies a potentially much greater public drive of Protestantism, tweaked further under Elizabeth. But the Scottish reaction and English reformation? It was complicated time in history with complicated connections between nations and perhaps best to see the reformation as process composed of both reaction and actual change, rather than defined singularly.