Preface to volume 3

Pages i-xvi

Acts and Proceedings of the General Assemblies of the Kirk of Scotland, 1560-1618. Originally published by [s.n.], Edinburgh, 1839.

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In presenting to the Club these remains of the Recorded Proceedings of the Church of Scotland, during the first half century after the Reformation, it may be fit to offer some explanation of the causes of their imperfect state; and not uninteresting to trace the successive dangers and escapes through which the original muniments had passed, down to the period when there is too much reason to believe they were left to perish in the conflagration of the Houses of Parliament in the year 1834.

The duty of recording the proceedings, and framing the Registers of the General Assemblies of the Church, was from the first entrusted to an officer regularly elected; to whom also was committed their ordinary custody. (fn. 1) In these Registers was embodied the most authentic evidence of the original constitution of the Presbyterian Church, and of its practical administration under the guidance of those able and distinguished men by whose exertions and influence its reformation had been achieved. To their well-known importance in that view, have been mainly owing the perils and injuries to which these records have been exposed.

During the first twenty years after the Reformation, the prevailing current of opinion in favour of the Presbyterian polity had been little disturbed, and the Registers of the Church appear to have remained in the custody of the proper officer; but in the course of the subsequent struggles for the re-establishment of Episcopacy, they acquired a sinistrous interest, and by some disorderly means had passed into other hands, from which they were ultimately rescued with no little difficulty. Although ignorant as yet of the injuries they had sustained, and even uncertain into whose hands they had fallen, the leaders of the Church became anxious to recover the possession of these records, and to replace them under the care of their own officers. Accordingly, in the General Assembly held in May 1586, two of the members were "directit to the Kings Majestie to solicite the redelyverance of the same, [and] returnit his Hienes answer, That they sould be delyverit to the Clerk ilk day during the Assemblie, but at evin they "sould be in the hands of the Lord Privie Seale quhill the end of the said Assemblie; betwixt and quhilk day his Majestie wald be present himselfe." This strange reserve in permitting to the Church the custody and use of her own Records, was apparently intended to elude the detection of the frauds practised by those into whose hands they had fallen; while, at the same time, it well harmonized with the favourite views of the King in asserting a civil supremacy over the ecclesiastical establishments of the country.

In the Assembly held in June 1587, "the King's Commissioners having offered their concurrence in recovering the Registers, if it might be known in whose hands they were; and the Moderator having desyrit the brether that could give any light in this matter to manifest the same," it was ascertained that they were then in the possession of Patrick Adamson, Archbishop of St. Andrews: and the royal authority having been obtained in aid of that of the Church, to compel their production, it would appear that in the first instance they had been given up to the Lord Secretary; and after much hesitation and cavil, there was "at length presentit "to the sight of the kirk fyve volumnes of thair Actis, quherof a great part being mankit, and, after the sight thereof, being redelyverit,—the haill brether ordainit ane heavie regrate to be made to his Majestie in article, lamenting the away taking and multilating of the saids Bookes, and to crave that the same may be restored, and also that the saids Bookes may be delyverit in the Kirks hands, to remane with them as their awne Register, namelie in respect of the answer returnit from my Lord Secretar, that his Majesties will was, that the Kirk sould have inspection thereof as they had adoe presently, and to give them up againe."

The restoration of the mutilated parts of the Registers, was unhappily no longer possible; but the story of this disgraceful proceeding seems to have been first disclosed, in the year 1591, in the humiliating confessions elicited from Archbishop Adamson by the Provincial Synod of Fife. He there ventures to assume to himself the credit of having saved the Acts of the General Assembly from the flames, to which they were destined by the Earl of Arran; but confesses, that "upon a certain day in Falkland, before they were delivered to the Kings Majestie, the Bishop of N. accompanied with Mr Henry Hamiltoune, rent out some leafes, and destroyed sic things as made aganis our estate, and that not without my awne speciall allowance." (fn. 2)

There seems to be no doubt, that prior to the date of these disclosures, the Registers of the Church had been replaced in the hands of the Clerk of the Church, nor does it appear that any further attempts were then made to disturb their legitimate custody. But hazards of another kind were awaiting them. On the overthrow of the Presbyterian polity in the year 1606, its muniments were no longer regarded as of dangerous importance; and for more than thirty years they appear to have been neglected and lost sight of by the Church. The period however was fast approaching when a due sense of their importance was to revive; and very serious alarms for their safety had begun to prevail, when, to the surprise of all, the greater part of them was brought to light in the General Assembly held at Glasgow in the year 1638. Of that unexpected and joyous event, the contemporary historians of the Presbyterian Church have been anxious to preserve the minute and interesting details. (fn. 3) It may here suffice to state, that by the successful exertions of Mr Archibald Johnston, who had been then chosen Clerk of the Church, and who was destined to act a still more prominent part in after life, the greater part of the Registers prior to 1590 had been traced and found in the hands of private individuals, officially connected with Mr Thomas Nicolson, the last regular Clerk, in whose possession they had been left after his "dimission" in 1618. Those only of subsequent date had been received by his successor Mr James Sandilands, whose son, an unsuccessful candidate for the clerkship, surrendered them to the Assembly.

On the part of the Royal Commissioner, there was shown an evident disinclination to recognise the authenticity of these records; but to put an end to all doubts on that head, the books were subjected to a minute and careful scrutiny, by a Committee of distinguished members; whose elaborate report, proving them to be "true, famous and authentick registers of the Kirk," was ultimately approved by an unanimous decision of the Assembly.

Of these more ancient records there were in all five volumes; four of which were found to contain the original record of the Assembly's Proceedings from 1560 to 1590; with the exception of that from March 1572 to March 1573, and of that from July 1580 to October 1583. The former of these was recovered and pro II.) duced to the next General Assembly held in 1639; of the other no trace appears ever to have been found. (fn. 4) That loss however was supplied by a fifth, what is described as the "greatest volume," and which proved to be a well-authenticated "duplicate" of the entire series of proceedings prior to the year 1590.

From the state of safe custody to which they were thus once more restored, the records of the Church were doomed to be again withdrawn, at the disastrous period of the English invasion in 1650. After several transfers from place to place, it was thought advisable to seek a shelter for them in the fortress of the Bass: in April 1651 a requisition was sent to the keeper, "that the Bass might be made "secure for the Registers, as it had been in a former day of calamity;" and as a further precaution against the accidents of war, it was "agreed that the great volume, being a duplicate of some of the rest," should be sent to the castle of Dunottar, to which the Regalia of the x.) Kingdom had been carried. But neither the Regalia, nor "the great volume," were very long considered as in a place of safety; and on the authority of a letter from certain members of the Commission of the Church assembled at Aberdeen, on the first of September 1651, the Register in question was delivered to the Earl of Balcarras, who had been the High Commissioner to the General Assembly held at St Andrews in the preceding month of July. (fn. 5) The more important portion deposited in the fortress of the Bass, fell soon afterwards into the hands of the English invaders, and was removed from Scotland in pursuance of an Order of the House of Commons, April 27, 1652,—"That Major-General Dean cause the public Records "of the Kirk, taken in the said isle, [the Bass,] to be packed up in cask and to be sent to the Tower of London, there to remain in the same custody that the other Records that come from Scotland are."

In 1657, Sir Archibald Johnstoun, Lord Wariston, in virtue of his office of Clerk Register, was successful in obtaining from the Protector's Council a warrant for restoring to Scotland such of the public Records "as concern private men's cases and interests only;" but all those "of a public nature" were retained till the period of the Restoration. There can be little doubt that his ardent zeal in the service of the Kirk would not allow him to be inattentive to the fate of these Registers; but of the means or the time of their actual release from the Tower, no distinct traces have been found. They do not appear to have been included among the Records surrendered in 1657, of which a full Inventory is preserved; and although it might be presumed that they were sent back to Scotland in September 1660, along with the other Public Records of the Kingdom, yet no distinct traces of their existence or subsequent fate have been found. The possibility of their retention in England, for reasons similar to those which prevented the transfer to Scotland of the Acts and Proceedings of Parliament during the Civil War, might have left a glimpse of hope for their ultimate recovery, had not the recent arrangement of the Records in the State Paper Office, and at the Tower, precluded every chance of their being yet discovered in those repositories. Whether these Registers of the Church may not have formed a part of the Records that were lost at sea on the voyage to Scotland in 1660, must remain a matter of mere conjecture, as there exists no satisfactory evidence of what was included in that unfortunate cargo. If it be supposed barely possible that they were brought back to Scotland, the only conjectural alternative which remains is, that they may have perished in the great fire at Edinburgh in the year 1701, which consumed a large mass of consistorial and ecclesiastical records. (fn. 6)

The other portion of the Church's muniments which had been transferred to the castle of Dunnottar in 1651, and afterwards placed in the hands of Lord Balcarras, there seems reason to believe, had been committed by him to the custody of Mr Andrew Ker, the successor of Lord Wariston in the Clerkship of the General Assembly, and on his death, had passed into the possession of his brother and heir, Mr Robert Ker. After the death of the latter in 1677, they are said to have been discovered in his private repositories, either in consequence of some previous information conveyed to the Government, as stated by Bishop Keith, (fn. 7) or more probably by the officers of the Commissary Court, in the course of their official researches. How they afterwards came into the possession of Paterson, Bishop of Edinburgh, does not appear; but in his hands they were retained, after the re-establishment of Presbytery in 1689; and in disregard of unquestionable legal rights and obligations, he appears to have treated them as articles of merely antiquarian curiosity, and, as such, to have presented or bequeathed them to the Honourable Archibald Campbell, an eminent virtuoso in his day, and afterwards a titular bishop of the Episcopal Church of Scotland. Bishop Paterson died in 1708; and it is remark able that twenty years afterwards, the fact that those were genuine Registers of the Kirk seems not to have been ascertained. In a letter from Mr Robert Wodrow to Lord Grange, written apparently in 1728, after alluding to the Manuscripts collected by George Ridpath, (fn. 8) it is added, "He pretended to have our original Acts of Assembly, as I "hear Mr Archibald Campbell, Lord Niel's son, pretends his copy is likewise an original record." This uncertainty may help in some degree to account for the tardiness, if not indifference, which the leaders of the Church had hitherto shown in vindicating their just rights, and compelling the restoration of an unquestionable portion of the Public Records of the Kingdom.

At length, however, the authenticity of the Registers in the hands of Mr Campbell appears to have been ascertained, and on the part of the Church a negociation was set on foot for their recovery, of which some valuable traces are preserved, but which is said to have failed in consequence of the extravagant and preposterous conditions proposed by that eccentric person. (fn. 9) Beside the payment of a sum of money as the price of their own property, which was considered as excessive, it was to be an indispensable preliminary that the books should be printed under his own superintendence, to the absolute exclusion of any revisal by any member of the Established Church. The refection of such conditions can excite no surprise; but it may well be wondered at, that there the matter should have been suffered to rest, and that no legal measures for compelling the restitution of the property should have been adopted. To these no effectual bar had been created by the subsequent transfer of the books to the Library of Sion College, London, by a deed of gift dated in the year 1737; but whether from a certain sluggishness of movement incident to such bodies, or from some ill-advised distrust of their own rights, the Church does not appear to have made any effort, or bestowed any serious thought on the subject, till nearly a century after, when the Reverend Dr Lee, now the Principal of the University of Edinburgh, began to rouse the attention of his brethren to the assertion of their long neglected claims. The strict justice of these he was most eminently qualified to illustrate and enforce; and for his zealous and laborious services in the cause, he well entitled himself to the thanks of successive Assemblies of the Church. It can never cease to be matter of deep regret, that his exertions had not secured a timely and more strenuous support; and that regret is embittered by the consideration that the first practical step, and the expected prelude, to a full vindication of the Church's right to these Records, was doomed to become the immediate cause of their loss.

In the year 1834, in pursuance of an Order of a Select Committee of the House of Commons on Church Patronage, Dr Lee, Dr Welsh, and Principal Macfarlan, accompanied by Mr James Chalmers, (fn. 10) obtained access to the Library of Sion College, and reported that "they had inspected three books in manuscript, bearing to be records of the Proceedings of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland from 1560 to 1616:"—and that in their opinion these Records were the genuine and authentic Register of the Proceedings of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland for the above period." Under another Order of the Committee, these volumes were reluctantly dragged from their place of deposit, and produced by one of the officers of the College; who was informed "that the Committee wished the books to lie upon the Table for their inspection, and that the Committee would send to him when they wished them to be returned." (fn. 11) The consequence of this resolution seems to be but too well ascertained. By a sad oversight the books were suffered, at the close of the Session, to remain in the Committee Room, and that part of the buildings was burnt down on the 16th day of October ensuing.

The books thus destroyed were three in number. The first, embracing the Proceedings of General Assemblies from December 20. 1560 to March 1589, was unquestionably the same "greatest book" produced by Wariston in the Assembly 1638; as, independently of certain coincidences observed by Dr Lee, it contained an attestation in the hand-writing, and with the well known signature of Wariston, as Clerk of the Assembly, that it had been received and acknowledged as an authentic register. The two other volumes, containing the Proceedings of General Assemblies from 1590 to 1616, were in all probability the same that were presented to the Assembly in 1638, by Sandilands, the son of the last Clerk of the Church within the period to which they relate.

The great importance of the Proceedings of the Reformed Church of Scotland to the illustration of the constitutional and general history of the kingdom, had not escaped the early attention of the Bannatyne Club; and in the absence of other means of giving publicity to the genuine records of the Church, the project was gravely entertained of undertaking that national work. The fatal catastrophe of 1834 terminated that more ambitious scheme; and there only remained the plan here adopted of retrieving, from such secondary sources as yet exist, the broken and disjointed fragments of the original Registers. Imperfect though they certainly are, two of these sources are here deserving of particular notice.

1. From an early period it became an object of importance to select from the general registers of the Acts and Proceedings of the Church, such parts as were calculated to illustrate and explain the principles of its constitution, and to regulate its ordinary administration. As early as 1574, a Committee of Members was appointed "to take travell in visiting and perusing of the Acts of the Assembly; to mark and note sick as are general, that thereafter they may be drawn and extracted out of the Books, that all pretext of ignorance may be tane away." Again in 1582, the Assembly "ordaines Mr [John] Craig to lay an order for collecting the Acts of the Kirk betuixt and the nixt Assemblie." In 1583, "Anent the travels taken be Mr Craige in collecting and disposing the Acts of the Assemblie," certain brethren are ordained "to consider and oversee the samine, and to returne their opinion back to the Assemblie:" and in the same Assembly, "anent the labours taken be Mr. John Craige in collecting of the Acts of the Assemblie, seing the great travels tane be him for the weale of the same, not without the singular fruit and profite of the whole brethren, to the effect the same may be absolved and brought to perfection, it is thought good that" the Commissioners "travel in perusing the whole work," and assist in the full completing thereof,—"that the judgment of the next General Assemblie may be had thereupon." And in the following Assembly, held in the same year, the Commissioners report that they "had considered the travels of Mr Craig in the Acts of the Kirk, and that in his labours God was to be praised: yet some things they had noted, wherewith they desired he sould conferr, and thereafter proceed with him in farther reasoning."

Of the praiseworthy labours of Mr John Craig, nothing more appears till the year 1593, when the following entry occurs: "Anent the Actis of the Kirk: That everie Presbyterie may be the better instructit therin, the Kirk hes ordinit Mr James Carmichaell, quha has alreddie tane sum paneis in correcting therof, to perfyte the work, and to present the same to the next General Assemblie of the Kirk." And again, in the Assembly of 1595, "Anent the Actis of the Assemblie: The brether has ordainit that the samein be sichtit, and speciall Acts for practise of the Kirk be extractit and joinit with the Booke of Discipline, to be publischit either in wryte or print, that none pretend ignorance thereof, and to this effect to concurre with the Clerk, Mrs Robert Pont, Thomas Buchannan, James Melvill, Johnstoun, and James Carmichael." (fn. 12) Here we find no distinct allusion to the previous labours of Mr John Craig; but having evidently had the same object, it may be presumed that those of Mr James Carmichael and his coadjutors consisted of a revisal, perhaps enlargement, and continuation of the former. (fn. 13)

That these careful compilations should have been afterwards entirely lost sight of, is highly improbable; and as there still exist various copies of such an abridgment, to which has been usually given the title of "the Book of the Universal Kirk of Scotland," it seems no very hazardous conjecture, that these may be transcripts of the work of Carmichael, continued to the termination of Presbyterian government in 1606. The copy preserved in the Advocates Library appears to be a manuscript of the early part of the seventeenth century, and contains proceedings of Assemblies down to the year 1616, including most of those that were condemned as unlawful by the General Assembly of 1638. It has been adopted as the main ground-work of the present collection, and has been found on collation to admit of little correction or improvement from any other copy. When the larger volume from which it must have been compiled, was examined by Dr Lee in 1834, he found, on a random calculation, that it contained more than thrice the quantity of matter preserved in "the Book of the Kirk;" but of what that larger quantity chiefly consisted, he had not an opportunity of a scertaining, further than that the Record "contained a great mass of information in a more complete "and certainly in a more correct form than any thing that has been exhibited in any of the publications which he had ever seen."

2. In aid of the "Book of the Kirk," and for the enlargement of its contensts, the Ecclesiastical History of David Calderwood has proved of most important use. It would be here out of place to enter into any detailed account of the valuable work. It was undertaken, if not originally under the express authority, yet with the entire approbation of the Church; and as the Records, recovered in 1638, were completely accessible to the author, it is evident that he had made a diligent use of his opportunities, and had not confined his researches to any of the abridgments which were then extant. His quotations from the Registers of the Assembly are very copious, and in the present work have been interwoven with the contents of the Book of the Kirk, but never without indicating the source from which they have been derived, by including them within brackets, with the initial letter of the author's name. The great value of Calderwood's work has been long known, and its complete publication from the original manuscript, now in the British Museum, has been one of the meritorious labours or the Wodrow Society. The extracts introduced into the present collection have been taken from a transcript of the original, made for the use, and under the inspection of Mr Robert Wordrow, now in the possession of the Church of Scotland.

It has been the object and anxious wish of those to whom the Conduct of this work was entrusted, to preserve every fragment of genuine record that could be discovered. For that purpose the historical works of Knox, of Melville, of Spottiswood, of Petrie, of Row, and others, have been carefully examined, and various corrections and additions have been obtained, which, like those from Calderwood, have been invariable indicated by the initial letters of their respective names. In further illustration of the proceedings of the Church, several public documents, taken from the Registers of the Secret Council and other authentic sources, have been introduced at their proper places in the order of time, and will be found to add to the historical interest of these volumes.

In the selection and transcription of nearly the whole of its materials, and in the various researches essential to the successful completion of the work, the Club has to acknowledge its deep obligations to the Reverend William Beattie Smith, A.M., Chaplain to the Garrison of Edinburgh Castle, whose zealous and long sustained exertions could have been prompted only by a deep feeling of interest in the object to which they were directed. That, after all, some things may have escaped his researches, is far from impossible; that some few notices have been introduced which were not strictly within the proper scope of the work, will not escape the observation of a critical reader; but on the whole, it is scarcely to be hoped that a more extensive view of the actual proceedings of the Presbyterian Church, during the period which it embraces, can now be attained.

It only remains to be stated, that the proper contents of what has been usually entitled the Book of the Universal Kirk of Scotland, may be said to terminate with the General Assembly appointed to be held at Aberdeen in the year 1604; and that the Assemblies which follow, from 1606 to 1618, whose proceedings have been here retained as necessary to complete the historical series, were, on the IX.) restoration of Presbytery in 1638, "condemned, and declared every one of them to have been from the beginning, unfree, unlawful, and null," for reasons which are recorded at length in the Acts of that Assembly.

EDINBURGH, March 1845.


  • 1. This officer appears under the various designations of "Scribe" or "Clerk of the Assembly,"—"Common Clerk of the Kirk,"—and "Clerk of the General Assemblies, and Keeper of the Register of the same." During the period embraced in the following volumes, the office was held by four different persons in succession, whose names have been rendered of some importance, in tracing the subsequent history of these records. The first in order was Mr John Gray, whose appointment was probably coeval with the first General Assembly in 1560. In the Register of Ministers, &c. 1567, (printed for the Maitland Club.) there is the following entry, which shews that his services were not entirely gratuitous:—"Mr John Gray, Keipar of Registre of Ministers thair Stipendis, "Extractor thairof, and Clerk of the Generale Assembleis and Keipar of the Registre "of the same, in recompense of his labouris bigane and to cum, ijc ti." In 1574. Mr James Ritchie was elected his successor, and sworn into the office with great solemnity. On his decease in 1596, Mr Thomas Nicolson, advocate, (and Commissary of Aberdeen,) was, by a plurality of votes, chosen, sworn, and admitted; and, with some temporary interruptions, retained the office till 1618, when, on his "dimission," Mr James Sandilands was received in his place. In 1638, Mr Archibald Johnston, (afterwards better known as Lord Wariston,) was elected Clerk by the General Assembly held at Glasgow; and to him succeeded Mr Andrew Ker, who survived the Restoration in 1660.
  • 2. Row's History of the Kirk of Scotland, p. 123. Edin. 1842, 8vo. In the Latin edition or version of this Palinodia, the passage relative to the Books of the Kirk is thus given:—"Quod ad illud quod quæritis, quis casus obtigerit Commentariis Synodi Generalis, ita res se habet. Integros servavi in reditum nobilium et ministrorum ex Anglia: quod si non fecissem, Comiti Araniæ in animo erat curare ut conjicirentur in ignem. Falcolandiæ quodam die, priusquam traditi sunt Regiæ Majestati, Episcopus N. una cum M. Henrico Hammiltonio discerpsit quædam folia, et ea quæ adversus ordinem nostrum ulli usui esse possent, idque me approbante."—A. Melvini Musæ, et P. Adamsoni Vita et Palinodia,—p. 51. 1620, 4to. It has been supposed that the person here alluded to was David Cuningham, who had been preferred to the Bishoprick of Aberdeen in the year 1577. The extent of the mischief thus practised has not been exactly ascertained, but the indications of this rough process of castration will be found in the following work, at pages 417, 424, 461, 465, 474.
  • 3. See Appendix, No. I.
  • 4. From the proceedings in the Assembly 1638, given in the Appendix, it appears that these missing volumes were supposed to be in the hands of Archbishop Spottiswood, who is stated by Lord Rothes to have obtained from the king a warrant to demand them from Nicolson, the former clerk, and from whom the later volumes after 1590 were obtained by Sandilands. It is highly probable that the Archbishop had desired to have the use of these Records in the composition of his Ecclesiastical History.
  • 5. See Dr M'Crie's Memoirs of Veitch, &c. p. 524.
  • 6. In the General Assembly at Edinburgh, March 1703, an Act was passed "for supplying and preserving the Registers and Papers belonging to the General Assemblies, Committees, and Commissioners thereof;" proceeding on this preamble: The General Assembly taking into their consideration the great loss the Church hath sustained by the burning of several of their Registers and some papers, in that dreadful fire which happened in the Lawn Mercat of Edinburgh upon the 28th day of October 1701," &c. Among these losses, the Registers of the Assemblies 1638, 1639, 1640, 1641, 1642, are particularly mentioned.
  • 7. History of Scotland, p. 497. Note b.
  • 8. WODROW CORRESPONDENCE, III. 285.—The manuscript in Ridpath's possession would appear to have been a copy of "The Book of the Universal Kirk." It was acquired by Dr James Fraser, another curious collector, and presented by him to the Library of the Divinity Hall in the University of Edinburgh. Unfortunately it has been lost for many years; but a transcript of it was made for the use of the Church in 1730.
  • 9. The documents alluded to are in the archives of the Church, and have been printed in the Appendix, No. VII. p. xxxix.
  • 10. At a previous examination of the MSS. in Sion College, Mr John Richardson, and Mr David Laing, Secretary of the Bannatyne Club, formed part of the Deputation.
  • 11. See Report of Select Committee on Church Patronage, pp. 355, 374, 451, App. p. 155.
  • 12. Some curious notices relative to the progress of Mr Carmichael's labours occur in the Register of the Provincial Synod of Lothian and Tweeddale, and will be found in the Appendix, p. xxx.
  • 13. This Manuscript appears to have belonged to William Earl of Crawford-Lindsay, who flourished in the reigns of Charles I. and II., and was distinguished for his attachment to the Presbyterian Church: it has his autograph signature in different parts of the volume.