Elizabeth - Mary, Queen of Scots - Reformation in Scotland

A more auspicious scene opened for England in the accession of ELIZABETH, a princess of great native vigor of mind, and who had been much improved by adversity, having been kept in prison during the whole reign of her sister. From the peculiar circumstances of Elizabeth's birth, her right of succession was denied by all the Catholics at home and abroad. This party considered Mary, Queen of Scots, who was descended from the eldest sister of Henry VIII, and had been brought up in the Catholic faith at the court of France, as their legitimate sovereign. Elizabeth had no support in any quarter, except among her Protestant subjects. The Pope issued a bull, which directly or indirectly, pronounced her a usurper, and gave permission to her subjects to remove her from the throne. The court of France professed to consider the Queen of Scots, who had recently been married to the Dauphin, as the Queen of England. Under these circumstances, Elizabeth found no chance of safety except in restoring and maintaining the Protestant religion in her own country, and in seeking to support it in all others where the people were favorable to it. The Scottish nation being now engaged in a struggle with their regent, Mary of Guise, in behalf of Protestantism, Elizabeth gladly acceded to a proposal made by the nobles of that country, and sent a party of troops, by whose assistance the reformed religion was established (1560). In bringing about this change, the chief native leaders were James Stuart, a natural son of King James V, and John Knox, who had once been a friar, but was now a Protestant preacher. As a natural consequence of the obligation which the English queen had conferred upon the Scottish reformers, she acquired an influence over the country which was never altogether lost.

About the time when the Scottish Parliament was establishing the reformed religion, Mary of Guise breathed her last, leaving the country to be managed by the reforming nobles. Her daughter, the Queen of Scots, now eighteen years of age, and the most beautiful woman of her time, had in 1559 become the queen-consort of France but in consequence of the death of her husband, she was next year left without any political interest in that country. She accordingly, in August 1561, returned to Scotland, and assumed the sovereignty of a country which was chiefly under the rule of fierce nobles, and where the people, from the difference of their religious faiths, as well as their native barbarism, were little fitted to yield her the obedience of loyal and loving subjects.

The change of religion in Scotland was of a more decisive kind than it had been in England. The English Reformation had been effected by sovereigns who, while they wished to throw off the supremacy of the Pope, and some of the Catholic rites, desired to give as little way as possible to popular principles. They therefore not only seized the supremacy of the church to themselves, but, by bishops and other dignitaries, made it an efficient instrument for supporting monarchical government. In Scotland, where the Reformation was effected by the nobles and the people, at a time when still bolder principles had sprung up, none of this machinery of power was retained. The clergy were placed on a footing of perfect equality; they were all of them engaged in parochial duties, and only a small part of the ancient ecclesiastical revenues was allowed to them. In imitation of the system established at Geneva, their general affairs, instead of being intrusted to the hands of bishops, were confided to courts formed by themselves. These courts, being partly formed by lay elders, kept up a sympathy and attachment among the community, which has never existed in so great a degree in the English church. What was of perhaps still greater importance, while a large part of the ancient revenues was absorbed by the nobles, a very considerable portion was devoted to the maintenance of parish schools, under the express control of the clergy. These at once formed regular nurseries of Protestant Christians, and disseminated the elements of learning more extensively over this small and remote country than it had ever been over any other part of the world.

Queen Mary, having little power in her own country, was obliged to govern by means of her natural brother, James Stuart, whom she created Earl of Moray, and who was the leader of the Protestant interest in Scotland. Personally, however, she was intimately connected with the great Catholic powers of the continent, and became a party, in 1564, to a coalition formed by them for the suppression of Protestantism all over Europe. She had never yet resigned her pretensions to the English throne, but lived in the hope that, when the Catholics succeeded in everywhere subduing the Protestants, she would attain that object. Elizabeth, who had only the support of the Protestant part of her own subjects, with a friendly feeling among the Scotch and other unimportant Protestant nations, had great reason to dread the confederacy formed against her. She nevertheless stood firm upon the Protestant faith, and the principles of a comparatively liberal and popular government, as the only safe position.