A History of Scotland in the 16th and 17th Century

By Tim Lambert

Scotland in the 16th Century

During the reign of James IV (1488-1513) Renaissance reached Scotland and it was a great age for literature. Also, the first printing press was set up in Edinburgh in 1507. Meanwhile, Aberdeen University was founded in 1495, and in 1496 a law was passed requiring all well-off landowners to send their eldest sons to school. Then in 1503, James married Margaret, daughter of Henry VII of England.

In 1511 James built a huge warship called the Great Michael. However, in 1513 he invaded England. The Scots were badly defeated at the battle of Flodden and James himself was killed. His heir James V was only a child and he did not begin to rule Scotland till 1528. The Scots invaded England in 1542 but were defeated at the battle of Solway Moss in November. The king died in December 1542 while still a young man. The throne passed to Mary Queen of Scots, who was only a baby. Henry VIII of England wanted his son to marry Mary. The Regent of Scotland, the Earl of Arran signed the Treaty of Greenwich in 1543, agreeing to the marriage.

However, in December 1543 the Scottish parliament repudiated the treaty. So in 1544 and 1545 the English invaded southern Scotland and devastated it. The English invaded Scotland again in 1547 and defeated the Scots at Pinkie. The English invaded again in 1548 so Mary was sent to France. Later she married a French prince.

In the 16th century Scotland, like the rest of Europe, was rocked by the Reformation. Early in the century Protestant ideas spread through Scotland and gradually took hold. Finally, in 1557 a group of Scottish nobles met and signed a covenant to uphold Protestant teachings.

However, the leading figure in the Scottish Reformation was John Knox (1505-1572). In 1559 he returned from Geneva where he had learned the teachings of John Calvin. Knox’s preaching won many converts and finally, in 1560 the Scottish parliament met and severed all links with the Pope. Parliament also banned the Catholic mass or any doctrine or practice contrary to a confession of faith drawn up by Knox. The Scottish Reformation had succeeded and Scotland was now a Protestant country.

In 1561 Queen Mary returned from France after the death of her husband. Mary was a staunch Catholic. She was forced to accept the Scottish Reformation but she had no intention of abandoning her own faith. In 1565 Mary married her Catholic cousin Henry Stewart, Lord Darnley. However, Darnley became jealous of Mary’s Italian secretary David Riccio. In March 1566 Darnley and his friends murdered Riccio. Mary never forgave Darnley and she came under the spell of the Earl of Bothwell.

In 1567 a house where Darnley was staying was blown up. When Darnley’s body was found it was discovered that he had been strangled. Shortly afterward Mary married Bothwell. Enraged the Protestant nobles rose and captured Mary. They forced her to abdicate in favor of her baby son, who became James VI. Mary escaped and raised an army but she was defeated at the Battle of Langside and fled to England.

Scotland was ruled by regents until James was old enough to rule himself. (In 1587 his mother Mary was beheaded in England). In 1589 James married Anne of Denmark. then in 1603, on the death of Elizabeth I he became King James I of England as well as King James VI of Scotland.

Edinburgh Castle

Scotland in the 17th Century

However, the Scottish Church was different in some of its doctrines and practices from the English Church. James’s son Charles I (1625-1649) foolishly tried to bring the Scottish religion in line with the English religion. In 1637 he tried to impose a prayer book on the Scots.

But the Scots rejected it utterly. On 28 February 1638 and the following two days nobles and gentlemen in Edinburgh signed a document promising to uphold the ‘true religion’. The document became known as the National Covenant and messengers took copies all over Scotland for people to sign.

Charles tried to force the Scots to submit and in 1639 he raised an army in England. However, he was desperately short of money and he made a peace treaty to buy time. In 1640 Charles raised another army but the Scots invaded England and they occupied Newcastle and Durham. They withdrew in 1641.

Meanwhile, Charles managed to alienate his English subjects, and in 1642 civil war began in England. At first, the Scots remained neutral. However, in 1643, the English parliament persuaded the Scots to join their side by promising to make England Presbyterian. In 1644 the Scots sent an army to England. Yet not all Scots agreed with this decision. Some supported the king and in 1644 the Marquis of Montrose raised an army in the Highlands to fight for him.

At first, Montrose had some success but in 1645 he was defeated at Philiphaugh. Meanwhile, the king was defeated in England and in 1646 he surrendered to the Scottish army at Newark. Montrose fled to Norway.

However, the English now dragged their feet about introducing Presbyterianism. When it became clear they were not going to the Scots made a deal with the king. He promised to introduce Presbyterianism in England for a 3-year trial period. So a Scottish army invaded England in 1648 but it was defeated at Preston. Then in January 1649, the English beheaded Charles I.

The Scots immediately proclaimed his son Charles II king. Charles II like his father Charles I and his grandfather James VI was an Episcopalian. He believed bishops should govern the Church. Nevertheless, to gain the support of the Scots he agreed to accept Presbyterianism in Scotland. In June 1650 he went to Scotland and he was crowned king at Scone in January 1651.

Meanwhile, in July 1650 another English army invaded Scotland and occupied Edinburgh. In the summer of 1651, they defeated a Scottish army at Inverkeithing. A Scottish army then invaded England. They hoped English royalists would join them but they did not. The Scots were routed at Worcester in September 1651. Charles II fled abroad. The English army then occupied the whole of Scotland.

However, the English occupation ended in 1660 when Charles II became king of England and Scotland. Charles II restored bishops to the Church of Scotland. However, about a third of ministers resigned. Many Scots, especially in the southwest, held secret religious meetings called conventicles. Gradually the government treated them more harshly.

Finally, in 1679, the Archbishop of St Andrews was murdered and unrest spread through the west. However, the government sent troops to quell it and the Covenanters were defeated at the battle of Bothwell Brig. Nevertheless, the Covenanters continued to resist and the government continued to persecute them. The 1680s became known as the killing time.

Charles II died in 1685 and his brother James became King James II. However, James II was a Roman Catholic and both English and Scots feared he would restore Roman Catholicism. James II was deposed in 1688 and William and Mary became king and queen of Scotland. The Scottish parliament restored Presbyterianism. However, not all Scots welcomed the new monarchs. The Highlanders rose under Viscount Dundee. They won a victory at Killiecrankie in 1689 but their leader was killed and the Highlanders dispersed.

The government was determined to bring the Highlands to heel and they ordered the chiefs of all the clans to take an oath of loyalty to King William by the last day of 1691. However, the chief of the MacDonalds of Glencoe arrived late and only took the oath on 6 January 1692. Even though he was only a few days late the government decided to make an example of him. So troops led by Captain Robert Campbell of Glenlyon were sent to Glencoe and billeted in cottages there. The MacDonalds treated them hospitably.

However early in the morning of 13 February Campbell and his men fell on the sleeping McDonalds. They went from house to house killing the inhabitants and then burning the houses. Altogether 38 people were murdered including the clan chief. This appalling massacre became known as the massacre of Glencoe.

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