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Scottish and English Reformations compared

April 12, 2018

There was quite a distinct contrast between how the Reformation was played out in Scotland and England. In England, the monarch always played the leading role. It was always a political issue. It was long drawn out because some monarchs were Catholic and some were Protestant, and there were several see-saws overs the years. It was only finally settled by the arrival of William of Orange in 1688 and the passing of laws which forbade a Catholic to be on the throne nor to marry into the Royal Family, laws which still exist today. By contrast, although there was civil unrest, violence and destruction by the army of the Lords of the Congregation in the decade before the Treaty of Edinburgh (1560), the disintegration of the Old Religion in Scotland was swift and Catholicism went underground, never to raise its head quite in the way that English Catholics did several times. An important difference between the two countries was that in Scotland, Catholicism was illegal while in England it was treason. Punishments were more severe in England. Being unmasked as a priest led to execution in a short space of time, and the death penalty was a punishment also for harbouring priests. Scottish laws were more lenient. If you were discovered as a priest, you were banished from the kingdom. If you returned and were found again, you were given a spell in prison and banished again. The death penalty was on the statute book for a third offence and we have no name of any priest who went through the three stages. Saint John did not go through the three stages, yet he was put to death. Scots Catholics, including those of influential aristocracy, tended to keep the head down, and caused next to no trouble while in England, being more numerous, they were also more active and more bothersome to the authorities.

 

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