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Archive Anecdotes

Snippets from Edinburgh's archives

May 17, 2013

Four hundred and fifty years ago, on the 17th May 1563, the Records of the Burgh of Edinburgh reveal that John Hamilton, the Archbishop of St. Andrews, was facing trial in Edinburgh along with several other leading churchmen:

“The baillies and counsale ordanis that proclamatioun be maid, be sound of bell, warnyng all nychtbouris, bayth merchant and craftismen, to be vpoun the hie streit the morne be viij houris, in thair best array in feyr of weir, for seruing of our Souerane justice, and to remane vpoun the samynhie streit vnto the end of the justice court set for the Bischop of Sanctandrois and the vtheris kirkmen quhilkis ar to thole law for saying mes.”

This event reflects the religious and political divisions of Scotland at a time when the sovereign, Mary Queen of Scots, remained a devout adherent to the Church of Rome, but Scotland had embraced the Protestant faith.

In 1546 Hamilton had succeeded to the bishopric, following the assassination of Cardinal Beaton by a group of Protestant conspirators. Leading Protestant reformer John Knox had hoped to win Hamilton over to the cause of religious reform but Hamilton soon showed himself to be a strong advocate of the Catholic cause.

As the extract reveals, in 1563 he was seized and put to trial together with several other Churchmen on the charge of saying Mass and hearing confessions, contrary to new laws. He was imprisoned but  was subsequently released through the intervention of Mary, the Queen, and became a ‘constant supporter’ of Mary in the troubled years ahead.

In December 1566 he baptised Mary’s infant son, James, later King James VI.  Following Mary’s flight to England he was accused of complicity in the murders of Darnley and of the regent Murray and took refuge in Dumbarton Castle. However, in 1571 the stronghold fell, Hamilton was taken prisoner, and hanged in Stirling three days after his capture.

• Extracts from the Records of the Burgh of Edinburgh, 1557-1571
• Barrett, Michael. "John Hamilton." The Catholic Encyclopaedia. Vol. 7. New York 1910.

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