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March 26th 1604

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Presbyterianism is 'offered'

When the Reformation came to Perth, the new order was established with remarkably little dissension. Most of the monks from the four monasteries in the city happily forgot their Catholicism and joined the Reformed Church. At least one, Alexander Young of the Carmelites, became a Presbyterian minister- at Tibbermuir.

If the monks took a pragmatic attitude towards the religious changes, the Kirk Session in Perth was more obviously committed and showed a determination that all persons should conform to the ‘true religion’. Special note was taken of those not attending church regularly and explanations were demanded for these lapses, the assumption being that the absence was not caused by a lack of enthusiasm for religion but rather a lack of support for Presbyterianism. The power of the Kirk session was such that they could report “that my Lady Errol, of contempt absents herself from the hearing of the Word on the Sabbath and on other preaching days.”  Various members were ordered to “speak to her, and try the cause of her absenting herself continually from the preaching of the Word, and if she has no reasonable cause, to desire her to be present in time coming, otherwise the Session will proceed against her with the censures of the Kirk.” 

William Fleming in 1587 was charged with “resetting, giving lodging and entertainment, and conveying of the Laird of Fintry, an enemy of God and religion, an avowed Papist and Jesuit, excommunicate for the same, ane common trafficker for the subversion of the true religion…”  and so on. Fleming answers rather naively that what he had done was done in “negligence because he was in the company with the Earl of Huntly.”  He promised “never to do the like in times coming.”  This explanation and submission was accepted.

There is no doubt that the continual pressure from the Kirk Session effectively brought all but the most committed of the Roman Catholics to an acceptance of Presbyterianism.

In 1594 an Act was passed which was more draconian than anything that had gone before. “That in time coming, all wilful hearers of Mass and concealers of the same, be executed to the death, and their goods and gear escheated (confiscated) to his Highness use so soon as they shall be found guilty and convict thereof…”  It might have been thought that the Act would result in a rash of executions but surprisingly little changed.

In Perth there was one notable case involving Archibald M’Breck, a wealthy merchant of the city. Travelling on the continent on business, M’Breck went to Rome and saw the Pope. Such behaviour was inevitably reported to the Kirk Session on his return. The session met on March 26th 1604 being aware that “Archibald M’Breck, in his absence out of the country last, has travelled into idolatrous places and made desertion from the truth and true religion professed and embraced in this country.”  He was summoned to appear before the Session but before he could do so further evidence came to light, obviously from one of his servants. Not only had he been to Rome but he had attended a celebration of Mass in Perth itself earlier in the month. When questioned he confessed his guilt and was tried in Edinburgh on May 8th.

Understandably he was found guilty but there was no sentence of death passed upon him and he was merely fined. There was in fact but one Catholic martyr in Scotland, John Ogilvie, a Jesuit priest who was hung on February 28th 1615.

He has since been canonised by the Catholic Church.

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