Simancas: September 1591

Calendar of State Papers, Spain (Simancas), Volume 4, 1587-1603. Originally published by Her Majesty's Stationery Office, London, 1899.

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'Simancas: September 1591', in Calendar of State Papers, Spain (Simancas), Volume 4, 1587-1603, (London, 1899) pp. 587-592. British History Online [accessed 4 March 2024]

September 1591

3 Sept.
Paris Archives, K. 1450.
607. The King to Don Juan Del Aguila. (fn. 1)
We hear from Captain Echavarri that he learns that there are still certain Spanish prisoners in England who have written to you respecting their release. We are seeking a man in the Armada hospital, who they say will be a convenient messenger to send thither to arrange for their liberation, but if you can devise any better or speedier means, you will adopt it. (fn. 2) —San Lorenzo, 3rd September 1591.
B.M. MSS. Add. 28,420. 608. Document headed—"The present state of the Catholic religion in Scotland."
The king of Scotland is 25 years old, and has very good parts. He was reared in the religion of Calvin, and consequently professes the same, but he is naturally so deceitful and shifty that the Scottish heretics themselves do not trust him, nor does the queen of England. The Catholics recognise that he is clever, and hope that some day he will open the doors to the light of truth.
The cities and coasts are filled with heretics, and the preachers they call ministers live there. They would like to fortify themselves, but the nobles will not allow them to do so. The nobles are in great part favourable to the Catholic religion, and the country people the same. The nobles all belong of right to the King's council, and cannot be deprived, except for treason. They have, therefore, greater power, and the King less, than in other countries. The ministers meet every Friday ; and amongst themselves they call this "the Church," which they say is above the King on all religious questions and ecclesiastical government. This is the opposite to the same sect in England, which recognises the Queen as the spiritual head over their Church. The king of Scotland hates these ministers, and fears the power they have assumed ; but as the queen of England favours them, they insolently threaten to excommunicate the King himself, and, in fact, do excommunicate other gentlemen when they do not obey their orders. These ministers a few years ago adopted certain heretical articles, nearly all opposed to our holy faith, and they wished the King and his subjects to subscribe to them, this being a public profession of conformity, like that of attending the heretic churches, or taking the oath of allegiance to the Queen as head of the Church is in England.
Many persons in Scotland signed the articles to please the King and ministers, without thinking it was so grave a matter. But they learnt its gravity on discussing it with the Jesuit fathers sent by Pope Gregory XIII., and others, now resident in Scotland ; especially with Father James Gordon, uncle of the earl of Huntly, and other priests from the English seminaries, who retired to Scotland against the rigourous edicts published in 1591 in England.
When they learnt how evil it was, those who first declared against the ministers were Lords Balgarys and Fentry, the latter of whom was beheaded by the King, dying a glorious martyr, and the other took up arms and held out against the ministers. He kept in his house for a long time one of the English priests called Ingram, who was afterwards martyred in England. This priest said mass, and Balgarys invited many heretics to hear his sermons, thus doing much good, and converting many to our holy faith. In view of this, the ministers obtained the King's permission to arrest Balgarys for treason, as they had excommunicated him two or three years before. The King thereupon granted them a signed warrant in blank, and left to them the choice of a person to execute it.
It must be borne in mind that it is an invariable rule for all families, especially those of nobles, to support their own people, and any offence offered to a single member of a family is offered to all. If blood be shed, not only is the vengeance wreaked on the evil doer, but upon all his kin without exception.
As Lord Balgarys, Walter Lindsay, is the son of the earl of Crawford, connected with the royal house and with many noble families, no person could be found who would venture to execute the orders of the ministers against him, for fear of the vengeance of his kinsmen. The ministers after having excommunicated certain persons who had dined in his house, and threatened to punish them severely ; were gathered together for the rurpose of choosing a person to execute the royal warrant, when Balgarys went with his people to the place where they were holding their meeting, and made them all beg his pardon and dine with him, they giving for the purpose the meal prepared for themselves ; which is usually very splendid.
They had to promise never to molest anyone again on his account. He had gone thither with the intention of killing them all, but he contented himself with this submission at the request of his kinsmen who accompanied him.
Encouraged by his example, other nobles, such as the earls of Huntly, Errol, and Angus, openly declared themselves Catholics ; whereupon the ministers appealed to the queen of England for aid, whilst the Catholic nobles appealed to the king of Spain and the Pope.
George Carr, who was coming from these gentlemen to Spain, was, by the tricks of the English ambassador (in Scotland), captured on board his ship, with the letters which the nobles had written to his Catholic Majesty asking for aid. The ministers at once printed these letters, and many others, from the duke of Parma, &c., which they had previously seized ; and called the book "Discovery of the treasons of the Scots papists," for the purpose of making the Catholics hated. They also caused the King to proclaim them traitors, and by the advice of lord treasurer Cecil, they passed a law making it high treason to have mass performed, or to harbour a priest. As, however, the Scots are not subject to their sovereigns as the English are, this turned out to be a mistake ; as it caused many more people to rise, declare themselves Catholics, and collect forces to defend themselves.
The ministers excommunicated the earls of Huntly, Errol, and Angus, with many other nobles, and the King in parliament declared them rebels, and their estates confiscate. They are, however, in arms, and have sufficient force to defend themselves against the heretrical party in Scotland. They have even entered the cities, and have caught some of the heretic ministers who were preaching against them, and soundly flogged them with ropes. Some of the most insolent and noisy of the ministers have disappeared, and the heretics say the Catholics have killed them. The King has threatened these gentlemen, but up to the present has gone no further. The ministers are much alarmed, and say nothing, wishing they had not begun to stir in a matter which has turned out so badly for them. The nobles daily grow in heart and strength, and the only hope of the heretics is that the queen of England will help them with an armed force.
Some months ago Pope Clement VIII. wrote to the king of Scotland exhorting him to embrace the Catholic religion, sending him 40,000 ducats, and promising him 10,000 every month, if he would admit and protect the Catholics in Scotland.
A ship arrived in the port of Aberdeen from Flanders with the persons who brought this money, and the Pope's letters, accompanied by Father Gordon, who had come from Rome with him. There were also on board, amongst others, three English priests. The people of the country did not, for the reasons already stated, dare to molest Father Gordon or the Scotsmen in his company, but they arrested the Pope's envoy with the money and letters, and also the three English priests, this being in pursuance of an order of the King that no Englishmen are to enter or leave Scotland without a passport from the English ambassador in Edinburgh.
As soon as they heard of it, the earls of Errol and Angus, with some of their men, went to induce the people of the place to release the prisoners, and at the same time closed all the passes to prevent them from being sent elsewhere. At the end of three days the earl of Huntly and lord Balgarys came with a strong force and ordered the suburbs of the town to be sacked, and the town itself to be fired in four places. The townsmen thereupon, out of fear, released their prisoners, and promised to aid the Catholic cause.
The Catholic lords, seeing how little they can hope for from their King, have made use of this money to pay their soldiers, (fn. 3) and they are now standing on the defensive, publicly exercising the Catholic faith, and permitting the same to all persons who choose in those parts, namely, from the city of Dundee to the north ; which comprises more than a half of Scotland. In addition to this a large number of Catholics in the other parts of Scotland are now living peacefully. Several important events, favourable to the Catholics, have happened in Scotland, as well as some heavy punishments from the hands of God, which have fallen upon those who were submissive to the ministers. This has had the effect of converting many, and causing others, who had feigned to be heretics, publicly to confess the faith. It is the custom in Scotland for the Catholics to draw lots to decide which shall be the patron saint for each one during the ensuing year, to which saint each person pays special devotion. The earl of Huntly having made preparations to celebrate the feast of St. Laurence, which saint had fallen to him, and having confessed and received absolution, very devoutly on the same morning, whilst he was at the sermon received news that his enemy, the earl of Argyll, had taken advantage of the plans of the Ministers and the King's warrant, to enter six or seven leagues into his (Huntly's) lands, burning and sacking the towns and villages, and carrying with him great quantities of cattle and other booty. The earl of Huntly finished his devotions, and then mounted with 36 others who were there at the time, and pursued the enemy. He caught up with him near some lagoons, and, in order to prevent the enemy's footmen from gaining with the cattle the soft ground, where the horsemen might get stuck, he dashed into the enemy's rearguard and killed them right and left, until his men came up and joined him, when they miraculously defeated the enemy, who were 1,500 against their 37. They killed 500, and recaptured all the booty without the loss of a single one of Huntly's men, only one being wounded by a harquebuss ball in the shoulder. The horses were all wounded with arrows and bullets, but they were all brought home, some, however, dying subsequently. This occurrence caused the greatest astonishment to the heretics, and the King caused the story to be repeated to him many times, but even then he would not believe it until he had spoken with some of the men of the defeated force. The earl of Huntly says that, never in his life did he feel to possess such strength ; it seemed as if nothing could resist him, and his companions say the same. The effect of this victory was to convert many heretics, and the Earl himself gained great encouragement in the cause of God, and much respect from all persons. Many of his vassals who had rebelled against him, returned to his service.
Another occurrence, no less marvellous, which has also caused great astonishment, was the following : The earl of Morton is a Catholic, but on the persuasion of his relatives he was about to conform with the ministers and sign the afore-mentioned articles against our holy faith, when at 12 o'clock in the day, he being alone in his room, an angel appeared to him in the form of a youth, who said to him "Earl do not as your kinsmen would persuade you, for if you do you shall lose the hand with which you sign, and your days shall end with a shameful death." Moved by this appeal the Earl again put on a gold crucifix, and an "Agnus Dei," which he used to wear round his neck, but had taken off when he abandoned his good resolutions. He then told the principal kinsmen who had persuaded him, how remorseful he was for his error, and what the angel had told him ; and in order that God's mercy might be for ever remembered by his house he added to his arms the figure of an angel. He also declared himself an enemy of the ministers, and refused to subscribe to their articles. Subsequently, however, he was greatly persuaded by his kinsmen, and the King made him many offers, creating him his lieutenant-general, so that at last the poor gentleman gave way and signed the articles. But he did not long enjoy either his office or his life ; for shortly afterwards going to arrest baron Johnstone by the King's warrant, with 5,000 soldiers, he met with the end the angel had foretold for him. When the earl of Morton came up with baron Johnstone, the latter, taking advantage of the ground, posted his 600 horsemen in three squadrons in a triangle, at some little distance from each other. Morton's vanguard was therefore able to enter in the midst of them, and Johnstone and his men, who were on one side, threw themselves upon him with such fury that Morton's men broke, and Johnstone reaching the Earl, at the first blow smote off his right hand, and at the second cut off a leg. He then threw him from his horse and he was cut into a thousand pieces. Morton's men fled, and Johnstone gained the victory. It was thus clearly seen that it was the work of God's hand that punished the Earl. Lord Claude Hamilton, younger son of the duke of Chatelherault, also subscribed the articles against his conscience, and at the persuasion of his wife and her brothers, to please the ministers and the King. He was on one occasion dining, and, as is the custom in some Scottish houses, the gospel was being read at table during the repast. The reader came to the words where it says : "He who denies me before men, him will I deny before my father ;" and as he pronounced the words Lord Claude rose from the table and attempted with a knife to cut his wife's throat, crying out that by her persuasion, and that of her brothers, he had denied the faith, and sacrificed his soul. For several days after this he remained in a state of delirium, and it was necessary to bind him. He is still in the care of keepers, not having yet entirely recovered his reason.
The example of this house of Hamilton is a very remarkable one, and may well cause men to fear the just judgments of God ; which, although they may come slowly, yet never fail to fall upon those who offend Him. The head of the house, the duke of Chatelherault, was one of the most noble and valiant men the country had produced for many years ; equally esteemed in Scotland and in France whilst he served God and the Catholic faith. But the queen of England beguiled him with hopes that she would marry his son, the earl of Arran, and he and his son joined the English party to depose unjustly the Queen, sister of Francis duke of Guise, and widow of James V., the duke of Chatelherault being made regent. He cast out the French, seized, with the aid of his accomplices, the ecclesiastical revenues and property, destroyed churches and monasteries ; and then, even in the time of his prosperity, he began to feel the hand of God upon him, and upon his son. Seeing himself tricked by the queen of England, for whose sake they had offended God and ruined their country, the earl of Arran went mad with a bestial madness, and still lives like a brute. As the Duke was of the royal house, he doubtless thought that the projected marriage and the change of religion would render him master of Scotland and England, but instead of this, he shortly afterwards saw himself dispossessed from his government by the very people whom he had made heretics. He was deprived of all his property, he and his house declared traitors. God added to these punishments another from His own hand ; for the Duke had the bitterness of living to see all his sons go mad except Lord Claude ; and he afterwards lost his reason, as has been related. And thus he ended his wretched life, overwhelmed with shame and trouble and, it is to be feared, accursed both of God and man.


  • 1. Commander of the Spanish forces in Brittany.
  • 2. These were still the prisoners of Sir William Courtney in Devonshire, from the "San Pedro el Mayor" ; the previous attempts to ransom them having been ineffectual in consequence of Courtney's excessive demands.
  • 3. That is to say, the Pope's subsidy to King James.