The Reformation

1559 - 1567

The Reformation in Scotland began in 1559 and represented a movement which challenged the Roman Catholic Church and papal authority, establishing Protestantism as the national religion of Scotland. Its leader was the theologian John Knox (c.1513-72), who became the first Protestant minister of St. Giles Kirk in Edinburgh.

The Scottish Reformation was influenced by England, where the Church of England had broken from the Roman Catholic Church in 1534. It developed as a reaction to a lack of tolerance within the Roman Catholic hierarchy in Scotland, the martyrdom of Scottish Protestants, such as Patrick Hamilton (1528) and George Wishart (1546), and eventually the political rise of a group of Protestant Lords. The Catholic Mary, Queen of Scots (1542-87), found herself centre-stage, from the Rough Wooing, which attempted to dislodge French Catholic influence by forcing a marriage with Prince Edward of England, to battles with her Protestant Lords, and her imprisonment and execution by Queen Elizabeth I of England (1533 - 1603), who was also a Protestant. The accession in 1567 of Mary's son, King James VI (1566 - 1625), who was raised by Protestants, was the final act of the Reformation, ensuring permanence for a Protestant Church in Scotland.

Protestantism began in Germany in 1517 with the publication of the Ninety-Five Theses by Martin Luther (1483 - 1546), which railed against the selling of indulgences that were said to reduce time in purgatory, and had proved a lucrative practice for the church and individual priests. The tenets of Protestantism were systematised by the likes of Philip Melanchthon (1497 - 1560), a colleague of Luther in Wittenberg. The movement spread across Europe, most notably to Switzerland through the theologies of Ulrich Zwingli (1484 - 1531) and Jean Calvin (1509-64), who took a literal interpretation of the Bible, believing in obedience to the word of God, delivered through Jesus Christ rather than a Pope. In England, King Henry VIII (1491 - 1547) took advantage to establish a Protestant Church of England, with himself as the head. This move was more political than theological, allowing Henry to divorce Catherine of Aragon, this having been refused in 1527 by Pope Clement VII (1478 - 1534). The theology of the Church of England remains more closely aligned with Roman Catholicism than the Calvanist-influenced Church of Scotland. However, the Church of Scotland, which was run by its congregations rather than by Bishops, fell under the influence of the English hierarchical system for a time during the 17th C. The Presbyterian system was restored in 1690, resulting in a small Scottish Episcopal Church splitting away from the established church, which continues to the present day.

Following the Reformation the Roman Catholic church was suppressed, and the rights of individual Catholics were not restored until the late 18th Century.

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