In a day or two the commissioners reported…
…that they were ready to give their judgment on the articles. This opened the way for the last act of the tragedy, for which all was now ready.
The archbishop issued his orders for the apprehension of Hamilton. The officer on whom the duty devolved, fearing an attempt at rescue should he conduct the reformer as a prisoner through the streets in open day, waited till after night-fall before executing the archbishop’s mandate. Hamilton, who was used to ask to his apartments and entertain at bis table all who wished to converse with him, whether they came to defend the religion of Rome or to be instructed in that of the New Testament, had that evening a little party of Christian friends in bis chamber.
Their converse was prolonged to a late hour, for they felt unwilling to leave him. What the subjects were that occupied their thoughts and furnished matter of conversation we can have little difficulty in guessing. The sentence to be pronounced in the cathedral to-morrow before the assembled “clergy, nobility, and people,” would, of course, cause some uneasy forebodings. They knew that the reformer was in danger, although they little dreamed that danger was either so great or so near as the issue showed it to be. There was no recent instance in Scotland of a vengeance so prompt and so dreadful on the score of religion as that which was now meditated; nor could they believe that a scion of the royal house, and one so nearly related to the reigning monarch, would be ruthlessly murdered by the priests of the realm.
But with their gloomy presentiments there would mingle, doubtless, cheering hopes, inspired by the prosperous state of the Reformation at that moment on the continent of Europe. Abroad the cry was being wafted from kingdom to kingdom, ” Babylon is fallen, is fallen.” In Germany a powerful phalanx of illustrious doctors, of chivalrous princes, and of free cities, was now gathered round the evangelical standard.
Toleration had already been won therefore the faith of the gospel, and not a year was to elapse when the ever-memorable PROTEST of the Lutheran princes was to be uplifted at Spires. In Switzerland the new day was spreading from canton to canton, and from valley to valley, with effulgence sweeter than ever was that of day-break on the snows of its mountains. The powerful cities of Zürich and Berne had opened their gates to the Reformation, and Bale was on the point of being won to the gospel. In France the progress of the evangelical cause was at that hour equally promising. It was making its way in the palace of Francis I, then the most polished and learned court in Europe.
The doctrines which Hamilton had maintained in the archiepiscopal palace of St. Andrews two days ago, and on which judgment was to be given in the cathedral to-morrow, even that “good works make not a good man, but a good man doeth good works,”had been taught in Paris these ten years past,and had found disciples among the illustrious scholars which then graced that capital, and was even now knocking at the gates of the Sorbonne, that “mother of learning” and citadel of Romish orthodoxy. Farel was thundering in the cities of the Jura, and was every day advancing his evangelical lines nearer to that little city at the foot of the Alps, on the shores of the Leman, destined to be the seat of the Reformation’s greatest legislator and the metropolis of Protestantism. Nor had the lofty barrier of snows and glaciers within which Italy reposes been proof against the transmission of the light. The evangelical faith had been spread in the Grisons, and the crash of idols in Locarno and other towns on the shores of the Italian lakes, gave warning to Rome that the throne on the Seven Hills might one day be assailed and overturned. When the cardinals and monsignori of the Eternal city asked the warder on its walls, “Watchman, what of the night?” he might have replied as of old, “The morning cometh.”
Turning to the other extremity of Europe, two nations which had long owned the sceptre of the “triple tyrant” were seen rising in revolt against him. In Denmark the mass had fallen: and the scriptures, translated into the tongue of the people and freely circulated, were regenerating hearts and blessing the homes of that land. In Sweden a Protestant king now filled the throne, and an evangelical clergy ministered to the nation. In the remoter Norway the Protestant faith had taken root, and was flourishing amid its fiords and pine-covered mountains. Nay, even to the inhospitable shores of Iceland had that blessed day-spring traveled.
All this must have been known in the chamber where Hamilton and his friends were now met; and prospects like these could not fail to gladden them, despite the sombre and even gloomy aspect of matters immediately around them. It could not be that the clay should break in every land lying betwixt the “snowy ridge” of Italy and the frozen shore of Iceland, and the cloud rest always on Scotland. It could not be that sun-rise should gild the Swiss mountains, the French and German plains, the Norwegian pine forests, and no dawn light up the straths of Caledonia; the land whose shore Columba had moored his bark of osiers, and where he had kindled his lamp when night and darkness were all around. No, the hour would strike: the hierarchy would fall, the country would shake off its chains; and a yet brighter lamp than that of Iona, the fully recovered and purely preached evangel,would shed its radiance upon bill and valley, upon hamlet and city of Scotland. The joy these prospects inspired could be read in the brightening eyes and beaming faces of the little company, and most of all in those of the youthful and noble form in the center of the circle.
Whatever the coming day might bring, this was what the future would bring. If tomorrow should bring an acquittal, well; if it should bring a stake, still well: that stake would only help on these great events, it would make the dawn of the day of Scotland’s freedom more certain and more near.
But hark, what noise is this outside the house! The little company start and remain silent. And now heavy footsteps are heard ascending the stairs: another moment and there is a loud knocking at the door. Well does Hamilton divine the meaning of this interruption. But he makes not the least attempt to escape. He bids them open the door; nay, he himself steps forward and opens it. The governor of the castle, the archbishop’s officer, enters. With calm voice the reformer asked whom he wanted. The governor replied that he wanted Hamilton. I am Hamilton, said he, giving himself up, and requesting only that his friends might be allowed to depart in peace. These friends endeavored to extort from the governor that he would bring back the reformer “safe and sound.” Without making any reply, the officer led him away.
A party of soldiers waited outside; closing round the prisoner, they led him through the silent streets to the castle. Nothing was heard save the low moaning of the night wind and the sullen dash of the wave as it broke against the rocky foundations of the Sea-tower to which the reformer was consigned for the night.
The morning dawns, the last day of February, 1528. Slowly the light creeps up from the wave of the German Sea; the shores of Angus and the hills of Fife come out in the grey dawn: now the sun rises, and the many towers and steeples of Scotland’s ecclesiastical metropolis, and proudest of all the burnished roof of its great cathedral, begin to glow in the light of the new risen luminary. The archbishop is up betimes, and so too are priest and monk. A terrible tragedy is that sun to witness before he shall set. Home is this day to strike such a blow as will make heresy hide its head for ever, and give Rome an eternity of dominion and glory in Scotland.
Already the streets of St. Andrews are all alive. A stream of people, composed of all ranks, nobles, priests, friars, citizens “is flowing in the direction of the cathedral, and rolling in at the gates of that proud edifice. How grandly it lifts its towers to the sky, how vast its area, how noble the sweep of its nave and aisles; how tall and massive its columns,which bear up with unbowing strength its lofty arid gorgeous roof. There is not another such cathedral in Scotland, few indeed of such dimensions in Europe. There is the throne of the arch bishop, from which this day judgment is to be given on the articles maintained by Hamilton at the conference before the council. That sentence, the archbishop believes, is to secure that this magnificent cathedral shall continue for long centuries the high sanctuary of religion in Scotland; and that at that altar, which this morning is ablaze with tapers, mass shall never cease to be sung, nor white-robed priest to minister.
How would it have amazed the haughty Beatoun, whom, we now see taking his seat on the archiepiscopal throne,to be told that this surpassingly grand pile would in a very few years be a ruin, that altar and episcopal chair, and crucifix and image, should all before this generation had passed away be blended into a mass of rubbish, that all the architectural magnificence “tower, turret, oriel” that ministered to the pomp of the Roman worship, smitten by a sudden stroke, should vanish, and nothing of that glorious pile remain save a few naked walls and shattered towers, with the hoarse roar of the wave, or the loud scream of the sea-bird as it flew past, resounding through it. But of this no one then so much as dreamed. Derision and scorn would have overpowered the man who should then have dared even to hint at the possibility of such a thing.
The archbishop, with his long train of bishops, abbots, doctors, and heads of religious houses, had swept in. “Beatoun sat on the bench of the inquisitor court,” says D’Aubigne, “and all the ecclesiastical judges took their places around him. Among these was observed Patrick Hepburn, prior of St. Andrews, and son of the earl of Both well; a worthless and dissolute man, who had eleven illegitimate children, and who gloried in bringing distress and dishonor into families. This veteran of immorality, who ought to have been on the culprit’s seat, but whose pride was greater even than his licentiousness, took his place with a shameless countenance on the judges’ bench.
Not far from him was David Beatoun, abbot of Arbroath, an ambitious young man, who was already coveting his uncle’s dignity; and who, as if to prepare himself for a long work of persecution, vigorously pressed on the condemnation of Patrick. In the midst of these hypocrites and fanatics sat one man in a state of agitation and distress” the prior of the Dominicans, Alexander Campbell” with his countenance gloomy and fallen. A great crowd of canons, priests, monks, nobles, citizens, and the common people, filled the church; some of them greedy for the spectacle that was to be presented to them, others sympathizing with Hamilton. ‘I was myself present,’ said Alesius, ‘a spectator of that tragedy.'”
The tramp of horses outside announced the arrival of the prisoner from the castle. Hamilton was led in, and passing through the great assembly mounted a small pulpit which had been prepared for him opposite the bench of his judges. The trial now began. First the commissioners appointed to examine the articles maintained by the reformer gave in their report. They pronounced them all heretical, and contrary to the faith of the church. Friar Campbell then rose and read the indictment.
The reformer was visibly affected when he saw the man present himself as his accuser, who had acknowledged to him in private that the evangelical doctrine which he taught was true. But in truth this office had been laid upon Campbell by the archbishop, and however horrible he felt it he dared riot refuse it, from fear of deepening the suspicions Beatoun already entertained of him. Hamilton calmly listened as the prior read the accusation article by article, and then expressed before the tribunal his continued adherence to his confession.
Campbell now began to argue with him: the reformer had no difficulty in refuting him and establishing from scripture the truth of his own doctrine. The friar was silenced; his stock of sophisms was exhausted; he had no more to say, and he turned to the tribunal for fresh instructions. The bishops were no more able to maintain the argument than the friar was; they deemed the ‘game of debate a hazardous one for themselves, and thought the sooner it was ended the better. The reformer had sympathizers in the audience, so the bishops bade Campbell throw a few new accusations in the prisoner’s face, and end the matter by calling him a heretic. Turning to Hamilton, the prior exclaimed, ” Heretic, thou saidst it was lawful to all men to read the word of God, and especially the New Testament,” “I know not,” replied Hamilton, “if I said so; but I say now, it is reason and lawful to all men to read the word of God, and that they are able to understand the same; and in particular, the latter will and testament of Jesus Christ, whereby they may acknowledge their sins and repent of the same, and amend their lives by faith and repentance, and come to the mercy of God by Jesus Christ.” “Heretic,” again urged the Dominican, “thou sayest it is but lost labor to pray to or call upon saints, and in particular on the blessed Virgin Mary, as mediators to God for us.” “I say with Paul,” responded the reformer,” there is no mediator betwixt God and us but Christ Jesus his Son, and whatsoever they be who call or pray to any saint departed, they spoil Christ Jesus of his office.” “Heretic,” again exclaimed Friar Campbell,” thou sayest it is all in vain to sing soul-masses, psalms, and dirges for the relaxation of souls departed, who are continued in the pains of purgatory.” “Brother,” said Hamilton, “I have never read in the scripture of God of such a place as purgatory, nor yet believe I that there is anything that can purge the souls of men but the blood of Christ Jesus, which ransom standeth in no earthly thing, nor in soul-masses, nor in dirge, nor in gold, nor silver, but only by repentance of sins and faith in the blood of Jesus Christ,”
It was not Patrick Hamilton only that said so; there was a voice in the bosom of Friar Campbell himself that said so also. But what was the miserable man to do. If before him stood Hamilton maintaining what the friar’s own conscience told him was the truth, behind him sat the bishops, stern and pitiless men, ready to fling him into the fire should he not urge home, false though he felt it to be, the charge against the confessor. Alas, he can not turn back; he must pursue the dreadful road on which he has set out to its bitter end.
As if to drown the cry in the depths of his soul, Campbell lifted up his voice and again shouted,”Heretic, detestable, execrable, impious heretic.” Directing a look of compassion towards the wretched man, ” Nay, brother,” said Hamilton in accents of mildness, “thou dost not in thy heart think me heretic; thou knowest in thy conscience that I am no heretic.”
The votes were now taken: it was a needless formality. The confessor’s fate had been sealed before the court sat down or the trial opened. But the forms of justice must be gone through with all mock solemnity, and with well sustained dissimulation and hypocrisy. On that bench not a vote was there but in condemnation of the disciple of the gospel. Away with him to the stake: burn him, said they all. The archbishop rose and pronounced sentence, adjudging Patrick Hamilton as a heretic to be delivered over to the secular power to be punished.”
There was not an hour to be lost in carrying out the sentence. Sir James Hamilton, the martyr’s brother, was still in the field; other friends had put themselves in arms, and were on their way to attempt a rescue. That very day Hamilton must be despatched. He was led back to the castle amid an armed escort, amounting, says Alesius, to some thousands. Men were sent to prepare the stake in front of the gate of St. Salvator’s college. Meanwhile the martyr was taking his last meal in the castle, and calmly and solemnly conversing with his friends.
The hour of noon struck: Hamilton, rising up, bade the governor, who was to conduct him to the place where he was to die, be admitted. On being told that all was ready” “Then,” said he, “let us go.” He set out, carrying his New Testament in his hand, accompanied by a few friends, and followed by his faithful servant. He walked in the midst of the guard, his step firm, his countenance serene: “a lamb going to the slaughter.”
Taken from, The Scots Worthies, Their Lives
Written by, J.A. Wylie
Spottiswood, History of the Church of Scotland
Calderwood, History of the Kirk of Scotland,vol. 1.