Ecclesiastical Politics in Scotland: 1586 - 1610
MacDonald, Alan R
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This thesis examines the interaction between the Kirk’s institutions and the state between the fall of the earl of Arran’s government in 1585 and the full restoration of diocesan episcopacy in 1610. Due to the lack of focussed secondary material, reliance has been placed upon primary sources, especially information from the courts of the Kirk above the parochial level - the presbyteries, synods and the general assembly - on personal correspondence and on governmental and diplomatic sources. The role of the general assembly has been investigated by analyses of its composition and its interaction with the crown. The part played by the presbytery of Edinburgh and its successor as the principal standing committee of the Kirk, the commission of the general assembly, provides a more focussed investigation of the personnel involved in ecclesiastical politics at the highest level. Chapters are also devoted to the synods and the presbyteries, concentrating on how these regional and local courts responded to matters of national significance. Finally, a chapter on the question of ecclesiastical representation in parliament complements the analysis of the institutional framework of the Kirk by demonstrating how opinions on a particular issue were formed and changed by political circumstances. This analysis demonstrates that many of the historiographical constructs which have been placed upon the issue of ecclesiastical politics in the reign of James VI require fundamental reassessment. The idea of factions within the Kirk - ‘Melvillians’ , or ‘Presbyterians’ and ‘episcopalians’ - is misleading and has done much to cloud the true picture. The alternative view presented here suggests that there were, throughout the period, shifting patterns of opposition and obedience to the policy of the crown rather than fixed clerical parties. Opinions remained fluid and were affected by events. Historians have approached the sources with preconceptions concerning the existence of such factions and have thus tried to find what was often not there. It is also demonstrated that there was a crucial difference in royal policy on either side of the regnal union which, along with 1596, should be seen as a turning point. Prior to 1603, James VI had a firm gnp on his ecclesiastical policy as a result of direct personal involvement after 1596. Consequently, he was able to carry out a successful policy based on consensus. After his accession to the English throne, however, the indirect nature of hs contact with ecclesiastical politics caused him to lose that grip. The centralising tendency in government, which had become evident prior to 1603, accelerated and was a major factor in increased clerical opposition to royal policy during the first decade of the seventeenth century. It is, therefore, also asserted here that, contrary to the view of most historians, it was this factor and not the liturgical innovations of the second decade of the seventeenth century which brought about the loss of clerical confidence in the religious policy of James VI.