Page images

father, and succeeded him in the throne. Both the infants were created knights at the font; and, in honour of the occasion, the monarch bestowed the same dignity upon fifty other youths selected from the noblest families in the country.

Feasting, games, tournaments, and every species of feudal revelry, accompanied the ceremony; and the people, who had, perhaps, been somewhat alarmed at the excessive sternness with which the laws had been executed against the guilty, were pleased to discover that, to the peaceable and orderly-disposed classes of his subjects, no prince could be more courteous, accessible, and even affectionate.

In the midst of these rejoicings a terrible guest revisited Scotland. So far back as 1348 the pestilence had carried off almost a third of the whole population. It had returned in 1361-again in 1378 had committed



now, after an interval of more than half a century, it once more broke out, to the dismay of the people, who had scarcely began to enjoy the sweets of security under a regular government, when they were attacked by this new calamity. Nearly about the same time there occurred a total eclipse of the sun, which for a short time involved the whole country in darkness as deep as midnight; and, whilst the pestilence stalked abroad, and the blessed and healthy light of heaven was withheld, men's minds became agitated with superstitious terror of the pestilence: the ravages were very great. There can be little doubt that the poverty of the lower classes, the cessation of the labours of agriculture by the prevalence of

* Fordun a Hearne, vol. iv. p. 1307.

private war, the plunder of the industrious peasantry, and the consequent relapse of large districts, once fertile and cultivated, into a state of nature, aggravated, to the greatest degree, if they did not actually occasion, this dreadful national scourge.

It is melancholy to find, that, amid this general distress, the fires of religious persecution were again kindled in the heart of the country. The reader is already familiar with the fate of Resby, the undaunted disciple of Wickliff, who, twentyeight years before this, was condemned by Laurence of Lindores, and, fearlessly refusing to retract his opinions, suffered at the stake in 1405. The Church was not then, probably, aware of the extent to which his doctrines had spread amongst the people; but it is certain that they had been adopted by a very considerable sect of disciples who met in secret, freely and boldly attacked the fundamental errors of the Romish faith, and, appealing to the written word of God as the single test of truth, rejected its splendid and imposing ceremonial, as founded on the fallible traditions of man. It was natural that these supporters of the truth, whilst they concealed their opinions from the world, should be anxious to open a communication with their brethren on the Continent, who had adopted the doctrines of Wickliff; and for this purpose Paul Crawar, a Bohemian physician, arrived in Scotland, soon after James's return from his second expedition to the north. His ostensible object seemed to be the practice of his art, regarding his eminence in which, he brought letters which spoke in the highest terms; but it

was soon discovered that, in the exercise of a profession which admitted him into the confidence and privacy of domestic life, he seized every opportunity of disseminating principles subversive of the ancient doctrines of the Church, and of exposing the ignorance, cunning, and rapacity of the priesthood.

It was not to be expected that such conduct should long escape the jealous vigilance of the clergy; and that same Laurence of Lindores, who had signalized himself by his zeal against Resby, determined that his successor should also feel the strength of his inquisitorial powers. Crawar was accordingly summoned before him, and, although he defended his tenets with remarkable courage and acuteness, his piety and learning were little convincing to the tribunal before which he pleaded. It appeared indeed at his examination, that, under the garb of a physician, he was a zealous minister of the word of God, and had been deputed by the citizens of Prague, a city which had adopted the tenets of Wickliff, to keep alive in Scotland the flame of reformation originally kindled by Resby. An ancient historian of these times has left us a summary of the articles of his creed.

He taught that the Bible ought to be freely communicated to the people; that the civil magistrate had a right to arraign and punish delinquent ecclesiastics that the efficacy of pilgrimages, the existence of purgatory, the doctrine of transubstantiation, the system of penance

and absolution, and the power of the keys claimed by the Roman pontiff, were all inventions and delusions of men. In the




administration of the Lord's Supper, he and his disciples, renouncing as too complicated and artificial the splendid ceremonial of the Romish church, adhered as much as possible to the primitive simplicity of apostolic times. They com menced the service by repeating the Lord's Prayer; the chapters of the New Testament were then read which contained the history of the institution of the Supper, and they then proceeded to distribute the elements, using common bread and a common chalice.*

It is very evident that, in such tenets and practices, we discover not merely the twilight, but a near approximation to the full blaze of the Reformation; and when they once detected the powerful, consistent, and systematic attack which had thus been made against the whole fabric of their Church, we are not to wonder that the Romanists became seriously alarmed. Unfortunately, James the First had imbibed, under Henry the Fourth and Fifth, an early disposition towards religious persecution. These monarchs were ever ready to purchase the friendship of the influential body of the clergy, at the price of religious persecution, and the Scottish monarch, in the prosecution of his schemes for humbling the power of the greater barons, was ready to pay in the same coin for the same commodity: Crawar, therefore, had nothing to hope for from the clemency of the sovereign; and, refusing to retract his belief in the great truths which he had so ably defended, he was condemned, and led to the stake. The sight of the

son Fordun, vol. ii. p. 495.

flames did not shake his resolution even for a moment, and he suffered not only with constancy, but with triumph.

On his return to his dominions after his long detention in England, James, as it might have been anticipated, found the royal lands and revenues in a dilapidated condition, and his power as an independent monarch proportionably weakened. It arose from the same causes, that, during this interval, the strength, pride, and independence of the greater barons had increased to an alarming degree. The Duke of Albany, anxious to secure their support, had not dared to restrain their excesses; and there can be little doubt that many grants out of the royal customs, many portions silently cut off from the estates belonging to the crown, were presented by this crafty and sagacious usurper to those barons whose good offices he was anxious to secure, or whose enmity he was desirous to neutralize. That all this had taken place could not long be concealed from the king; but on his first assuming the government he was neither fully informed of the extent of the abuse, nor prepared to administer a remedy. When, however, he became more firmly seated on the throne, when he felt his own strength, and had exhibited to his nobles and his people that remarkable mixture of wisdom, vigour and severity, which formed his character, the purposes of the prince and the feelings of the people experienced a change. It became evident to the monarch, that, unless he succeeded in curtailing the overgrown power of his nobles, and recovering for the crown the wealth and the influence which it had lost, he must be

« PreviousContinue »