Andrew Melville: The Thorn in the King’s Side. Part One. Appearance before King James VI. and the Council, A.D. 1583


In the beginning of February…

…Mr. Andrew Melville was thereby summoned to appear before the king and council within less than three days. This was to answer to such things as were to be laid to his charge concerning certain speeches uttered by him from the pulpit, seditious and treasonable. Mr. Andrew appeared, accompanied with some of his scholars and friends, among whom was Mr. Robert Bruce; and I, being in Angus, escorting my mother-in-law to her husband, had gone away a day before his summoning, but I made diligence, and came to Edinburgh the day of his second appearance. The which day, he declined the judicature of the king and council, being accused upon no civil crime or transgression, but upon his doctrine uttered from the pulpit.

When the king and Captain James, who was then made Great Chancellor came in, they did so with what seemed to be the roarings of lions and messages of death. These dire tidings were so hot that all the council and courts of the palace were filled with fear, noise, and rumors. However, through it all, Mr. Andrew never flinching nor dashed a whit, but with magnanimous courage, a mighty force of spirit, and an abundance of evidence of reason and language, plainly told the king and council that they presumed over-boldly in a constituted estate of a Christian Kirk, the kingdom of Jesus Christ, by passing by and disdaining the prophets, pastors, and doctors of the Kirk, and to take upon themselves to judge the doctrine and control the ambassadors and messengers of a King and council greater than they, and far above them.

“And that, ye may see your weakness, oversight, and rashness, in taking upon you that which ye neither ought nor can do (then loosing a little Hebrew Bible from his belt, and clanking it down on the board, before the king and chancellor), there is,” says he, “my instructions and warrant; let me see which of you can judge thereon, or control me therein, that I have passed beyond my injunctions.” The chancellor opening the book, finds it Hebrew, and puts it in the king’s hand, saying, “Sir, he scorns your majesty and council.” “No, my lord,” says Mr. Andrew, “I scorn not; but with all earnestness, zeal, and gravity, I stand for the cause of Jesus Christ and his Kirk.”

Many times put they him out, and called him in again, sometimes dealing with menacings, and sometimes with fair words, to break him, but he grew more and more in wisdom, strength, and courage, howbeit none was suffered to come in with him; and when he came out, had scarcely leisure to draw his end, much less to take any advice with his friends and brethren. In end, they proceed; admit an accuser, whose name lives in ignominy of “William Stewart, the Accuser.” This man was a pensioner of the Prior of St. Andrews; who conceived the articles of accusation; and took the deposition of a number of witnesses summoned from St. Andrews, especially his greatest dislikers.

But Mr. Andrew ever adhering to his statements, and at all times, as occasion served, telling them his mind mightily about the truth and weight of the cause of Christ and his Church, and wrongs done thereunto, which he would be avenged of some day. And when they had done all, little or nothing to prove their purpose, the court decreed that Mr. Andrew, for his unreverent behavior, which he displayed before his majesty and council, should be put in ward in the Castle of Edinburgh, to await the king’s will.

In the meantime, Mr. Andrew’s brethren and friends were informed, by those who knew that certain plots were laid, that there was no good will to Mr. Andrew; and that if he were ever held, he would not be loosed again, unless it were for the scaffold. This made him to keep him quiet a night and a day, during the which time I traveled amongst the councilors. Many gave me fair words, and said there was no danger; but our best friends read a sentence written on the wall. We understood, further, that the decree of the council had been altered, and that the prison appointed was to be Blackness—a foul hole, kept by Captain James’ men. So, while we were all in great and heavy anxiety and as of most doleful doubtfulness as to the will of the counsel, and thinking it a hard and sore matter to bereave the schools and Kirk of Scotland of such a light and leader, we pondered about what means and time might mitigate the king and procure his liberty.

We knew that there were other plots which were being laid by the church’s enemies, and we could see the violent form of Captain James’ government, but we couldn’t bring ourselves to jeopardize the life of such a man which might be reserved for a better time; all of this I say, was discussed in this doubtful debate among ourselves. And no one in his own heart, knowing well whereto to incline. But then Mr. Andrew himself comes out in public, resolute and cheerful, and bade us all be of good courage, for God had resolved him of the best, and he was assured would be with him. So we go to dinner, in Mr. James Lawson’s house, who with all his guests were exceedingly heavy-hearted, and oftentimes could not contain, but mixed their tears with their drink. Only Mr. Andrew ate, drank, and chatted as merrily and free-minded as at any time, and more; and (according to his continual form at dinner and in all company) took occasion of good conference, and discourse pertinent for the time and state of matters, to his own wonderful encouragement and our great comfort, interlacing always some merry interludes, and drinking to his captain and ward-fellows, bidding us make us ready to follow.

So, after dinner, he gave it out, ‘and none knew otherwise but a very few, that he would obey the charge and enter into ward, if the king commanded, and God so directed him. Whereupon the macer gets access; gives him the charge, with his warrant to enter into the Castle of Blackness within twenty-four hours; the which he receives reverently; but within an hour or two, his brother Roger and he slip out at the port side by side, and lodge that night where God had prepared, and within four-and-twenty hours entered into Berwick, in place of Blackness. Certain of Captain James’ horsemen had immediately before rode out at the same port to attend upon him, and convey him to Blackness, there for once to make him sure.—Melville’s Diary.

End of Part One

Taken and adapted from, Select Extracts for the Young
Published for the Free Church of Scotland

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