This week (6th-10th February) Kara and I went on our Reformation and Covenanter history tour and found ourselves standing amongst the very sites where the Covenanters achieved victory and freedom as well as sites at which they suffered crushing defeat. We traveled all over Scotland and saw many breathtaking places in the countryside and many harrowing memorials that made us contemplate the persecution suffered by the Covenanters. To write an exhaustive list of all the places we’ve been to this past week would be far too long an ordeal. However, it would be an insult to the memory of the Reformation’s martyrs to not regale you with a small fraction of their stories. These people suffered and died for the freedom to teach the truth of the Scriptures, and they must be remembered. Consider this your crash course on a handful of key events in the history of the Scottish Reformation.
The first location to which Jimmy and Helen took Kara and I was St. Andrew’s Castle on the east coast of Scotland. Built around 1200 A.D., St. Andrew’s Castle was a key stronghold in the Scottish Reformation. In the early 1500s, the Roman Catholic church had become despicably corrupt by godless men who wished only for power and wealth and cared not for the lives and souls of God’s people. Both Archbishop Beaton and Cardinal Beaton used St. Andrew’s Castle as their residence and reigned over the Scottish people in an oppressive persecution of any who challenged Catholicism. Archbishop Beaton executed the first of the Scottish Reformers, Patrick Hamilton, and Cardinal Beaton executed George Wishart, Reformer and mentor of John Knox. Both of these Reformers did no crime but simply preached God’s Word to the Scottish people. The castle was attacked in 1547 by Reformers who were enraged by the unjust execution of not only Hamilton and Wishart but countless other supporters of the free teaching of God’s Word. The Reformers seized the castle, executed Cardinal Beaton, and established St. Andrew’s as their stronghold from which to defend the reforming faith in Scotland. John Knox was called by the rebel Reformers to be the minister in St. Andrew’s and after some deliberation he agreed. In the summer of 1547, the regent Mary I of Scotland (essentially the queen of Scotland as the real queen was too young to rule) commissioned French warships to besiege St. Andrew’s Castle. After months of siege warfare—in which tunnels were dug under the walls and the castle was shelled by French cannons on all sides—the Reformers were forced to surrender and were imprisoned on French ships, John Knox included.
On Tuesday, Jimmy and Helen took Kara and I to see the famous battleground of Bothwell Bridge. It was at this site in 1679 that King Charles II of Scotland won a battle over the insurrection of men known as the Covenanters who refused to accept the king as the ruler over all the church. The Covenanters, a ragtag band of God-fearing men who had been prohibited from meeting for worship under pain of death by the king, were unable to defend themselves against the specially trained forces of the king. The king’s troops slew hundreds of the Covenanters and imprisoned over a thousand others who later died from the harsh conditions of their imprisonment.
Lastly I will tell you the tragic story of the two Margarets. In 1685, during the reign of King James VII of Scotland, two sisters named Margaret (age 18) and Agnes (age 13) Wilson were arrested for attending a secret church service called a conventicle. The free preaching of the Word of God, having been outlawed by the decree of the king, was punishable by fines, imprisonment, or even death. The two sisters had been hiding in the home of an older woman named Margaret McLaughlin, who was arrested with them. They were falsely accused of fighting in the battle of Bothwell Bridge and sentenced to death. The girls, having been 11 and 7 at the time of the battle, had obviously not fought there, but truth and justice were irrelevant to the bloodthirsty King James VII. The girls’ father, upon hearing that they had been captured and sentenced to death, sold everything he owned in an attempt to buy his daughters’ freedom, but was told he only had enough money to free one daughter. Young Margaret pleaded with her heartbroken father to free Agnes rather than her. Agnes was freed and the two Margarets were taken out to the town of Wigtown, tied to stakes near the sea at low tide, and left to drown in the icy waters. The older Margaret drowned first, and the soldiers jeered to Margaret Wilson to beg for mercy. However, she stood firm and began to sing Psalm 25 to all who had gathered to watch in horror. A soldier, hearing her singing the Scriptures, waded out into the water and struck her with his musket. He forced her head underwater, silencing her praises and witness for Christ.
I hope it is now as clear to you as it is to Kara and I that the Scottish Reformation was no small ordeal. Against vast opposition, simple Scotsmen defied the injustices of Episcopal kings and Catholic dogma for the sake of the truth. Thousands of men and women fought and died to preserve the truth of Scriptures in Scotland. Let us not forget their sacrifices and martyrdoms. Today while you are doing your morning devotions or praying before dinner, remember the Covenanters and thank God for those who died long before the establishment of America so that you might have the freedom to worship God and know the truth of Scriptures.