IN this continuing history of Glasgow we have reached the time of the Reformation, and the city played an important role in the whole process of turning a Roman Catholic nation into a Protestant country.

I am only too aware that religion has been a divisive issue in Glasgow over the centuries which is why my accounts of the Reformation will be strictly factual. Today’s column features the city’s own Protestant martyrs. It will not be comfortable reading.

Having started burning people for their Protestant beliefs, the hierarchy of the Catholic church in Scotland soon developed a taste for burning people that they classed as heretics.

The former Archbishop of Glasgow, James Beaton, had moved to St Andrews where, as we saw last week, he conspired in 1529 with his successor at Glasgow, Archbishop Gavin Dunbar, to execute Patrick Hamilton, a young man of noble birth from Glasgow diocese who had preached against the church’s practices that he declared to be human, not divine, in origin.

Five years after his agonising death by slow burning, Hamilton’s follower Henry Forrest, a Benedictine friar from Linlithgow was burned at the stake for heresy at St Andrews in 1532. His ‘crime’ was possession of a Bible translated into English.

The next two Scottish martyrs for the Protestant faith were Norman Gourlay, an ordained priest from Dollar who was accused of heresy, and David Straiton or Stratoun, the younger son of the Laird of Lauriston in Forfarshire. The latter was excommunicated for non-payment of the tithes which the church demanded. He couldn’t be burned for that so he was indicted for heresy. Gourlay and Straiton appeared before Archbishops Beaton and Dunbar and King James V himself, resplendent in red as John Knox wrote in his History of the Reformation.

Knox continued: “There was great labour to make the said David Stratoun recant, and burn his bill (rip up his beliefs). But he, ever standing at his defence, alleging that he had not offended, in the end was adjudged unto the fire. When he perceived the danger, he asked grace of the King. This would the King willingly have granted unto him, but the bishops proudly answered that his hands were bound in that case, and that he had no grace to give to such as by their law were condemned. And so was David Stratoun, with the said Master Norman, after dinner, upon the 27th day of August, in the year of God 1534, led to a place beside the Rood of Greenside; and there these two were both hanged and burned, according to the mercy of the papistical Kirk.”

Note the invective of Knox. It was as nothing compared to what he reserved for Archbishop Beaton’s nephew David who succeeded him as Archbishop of St Andrews and who, as Scotland’s primate, led the counter-Reformation campaign.

Beaton (or Bethune, though he spelled his name Betoun) was a graduate of Glasgow, St Andrews and Paris University and at the age of just 25, James V appointed him as an ambassador in France. His uncle made David the rector at the church in Cambuslang and then fixed it for his nephew to be named Lord Abbot of Arbroath. David Beaton was heavily involved in the negotiations for James V to marry both the ill-fated Madeleine of France and, after her death, Mary of Guise. For this he was rewarded with a French bishopric and later was made a Cardinal by Pope Paul III.

From 1520 onwards he lived openly with his mistress Marion Ogilvy and they had eight children in all. His concubinage caused great scandal but did not stop him becoming co-adjutor – basically a job share – with his ailing uncle. He then succeeded his uncle as Archbishop of St Andrews and Scottish Primate upon that man’s death in the autumn of 1539.

Even before he became Primate he had shown how he would deal with heretics, as he saw them. He had five men brought to a show trial in 1538 on charges of heresy. According to Knox and other sources they were two Dominican Friars, Kyllour (or Keillor) and Beveridge, Sir Duncan Simpson, a noble who was an ordained priest, Dean Thomas Forrest of Dollar and Robert Forrester, a notary from Stirling. All had been heard to query church doctrines and all five were burned at the stake on the same day at Castle Hill in Edinburgh.

Now it was Glasgow’s turn. Archbishop Gavin Dunbar was Chancellor of Scotland and though he shared David Beaton’s views on Protestant ‘heresy’ and had signed the death warrants of Patrick Hamilton and the Castle Hill martyrs, Dunbar was reluctant to spread the burnings to his own city. The two archbishops were great rivals and at one time even came to blows – the result is not recorded – but Dunbar was aware that the stories of the Protestant martyrs were spreading like wildfire throughout Scotland and causing more and more people to turn against the Catholic church.

In 1539, a Franciscan friar from Dumfries, Jerome Russell, and an 18-year-old poet called Alexander Kennedy from Ayr, were arraigned on heresy charges and brought before a court presided over by Dunbar. Three associates of Beaton, John Lauder, Andrew Oliphant and a Friar Maltman were sent to make sure the correct verdict was returned.

The friar and the poet were duly convicted and sentenced to death, but at this stage Dunbar intervened to secure a lesser penalty.

Beaton’s crew then threatened the Archbishop with the same fate if he did not agree to burn the pair, and Dunbar had little choice but to accept.

According to Knox, even as they were being led to the stake – we don’t know exactly where but

most probably near the Cathedral – both men made powerful speeches.

He records Friar Russell saying to Kennedy: “Brother, fear not: more potent is He that is in us, than is he that is in the world. The pain that we shall suffer is short, and shall be light; but our joy and consolation shall never end. Therefore, let us contend to enter in unto our Master and Saviour, by the strait way which He has trod before us. Death cannot destroy us; for it is destroyed already by Him for whose sake we suffer.”

The sentence was carried out and Glasgow had its martyrs for the reformed faith. And as Archbishop Dunbar had feared, their example proved inspirational in the city and the nation.