Scotlands History

Protestant Reformation

Martin Luther’s ideas, first published in 1518, had inspired far-reaching change from the Catholic faith to Protestantism across Europe. On 31 October 1517 Luther had nailed his Ninety-Five Theses to the door of the castle church in Wittenburg, Germany. He outlined the Roman Catholic clergy’s abuses of power and proposed that the Catholic Church should be reformed. His ideas had much more drastic consequences.

Patrick Hamilton became the first Protestant martyr in 1528. He was burned at the stake for heresy in the street outside St Salvator's College of the University of St Andrews. His last words were ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.’

In 1546, the Catholic Cardinal Beaton had George Wishart, a Protestant reformer and preacher, arrested, tried and burned at the stake. Wishart’s friends and supporters plotted revenge. On the morning of 28 May 1546 a group of conspirators gained entry to Cardinal Beaton’s castle at St Andrews. The plotters took the castle and murdered Beaton. His body was shown a crowd that gathered at the castle walls.

Marie de Guise sent for a French fleet that besieged the plotters at St Andrews castle. They were captured and became slaves in the galleys of French warships. John Knox was among the Protestants forced to row in the French galleys. He later wrote an account of the murder of Cardinal Beaton and recalled the galleys, saying ‘How long I continued a prisoner; what torment I sustained in the galleys and what were the sobs of my heart, is now no time to recite.’
  • The letters PH, the initials of the Protestant martyr Patrick Hamilton, set into cobble stones
  • photograph of damaged carving of the Crucifixion in Rosslyn Chapel

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