HAVING played its role in the end of Mary, Queen of Scots’s reign and the subsequent tumult across Scotland in the time of the four Regents, and having seen its lucrative Catholic religion-centred economy shattered, the city of Glasgow entered the 1570s in post-Reformation poor shape, but thanks largely to one extraordinary man – Andrew Melville – Glasgow was about to undergo a revolution in its fortunes.

For many people who know just a modicum of Scottish history, John Knox is the most important figure in the Scottish Reformation, yet when he died on November 24, 1572, the Reformation was far from complete and while he had set the tone for the new Scottish Presbyterian religion, he had not achieved all that he wanted.

Far from it – the Reformation was unfinished, not least because there were insufficient trained ministers who knew about Calvinism and Presbyterianism. Indeed, despite the efforts of Knox and the Kirk aided by the Scottish government of the day, there were somewhat less than 1000 clergy by 1572, most of whom were “readers” rather than full ministers. Many of these were converted Catholic clergy, and in the Highlands and Islands there were very few who could preach in Gaelic which was still very much the mother tongue of a large area of Scotland.

The Kirk had not yet achieved its final shape, and despite the appointment of “superintendents” to control Kirk matters in the various areas of Scotland – John Willock was first to hold the post in Glasgow and the west – archbishops and bishops were still part of the hierarchy, with Glasgow gaining a new Protestant archbishop, James Boyd of Trochrig, in 1573. With Glasgow’s Catholic archbishop James

Beaton in exile in France, the city now had two archbishops, but only one was recognised by the Kirk and the Scottish authorities and that was Boyd. In early 1574, the Scottish Privy Council confirmed that Roman Catholic prelates could not hold office and were declared outlaws and traitors – Archbishop Beaton was the first name on the list. We shall see what happened to him in a future column.

Boyd became Provost of Glasgow and “bailie of the regality” – a royal appointment – and was also made chancellor of Glasgow University. He was in that office when a small miracle happened for Glasgow, one that Boyd would regret.

The Kirk was well aware that education of ministers was needed, and Glasgow University having been in a state of some disarray since the Reformation Parliament of 1560, it was agreed between the Kirk and the city’s council to find a new principal to restore the university as a centre of divinity studies.

The chosen man was theologian and professor Andrew Melville, a native of Montrose who had graduated from St Andrews University with considerable distinction before going to the Continent for further studies. From a young age he was a dedicated Presbyterian. He also learned numerous languages, and after a spell in France he became professor of the humanities at the famed academy of Geneva, former home of both John Calvin and John Knox.

By the age of 29, Melville was already hailed as one of Europe’s finest scholars, and in 1574, he was offered the post of Glasgow University principal as well as becoming minister of Govan parish. He appears to have arrived in Glasgow like a whirlwind. In short order he transformed the university, expanding the curriculum, establishing more faculties and gaining more staff and students simply because of his personal reputation. By the time a royal charter was granted to the university in 1577, Melville had created professorships in science, philosophy, divinity and languages.

Glasgow University’s official biography of Melville sates: “He brought with him the latest intellectual ideas from Europe, and an appreciation of humanism. Melville is believed to have been the architect of the Nova Erectio, which not only granted to the college the substantial income from the parsonage and vicarage of Govan but revised the government of the institution, placing greater authority in the hands of the principal and clearly defining his duties.”

He took time out to supervise the reconstruction of King’s College, part of Aberdeen University, even as he was preparing his greatest endeavour – turning the Kirk into a Presbyterian body without bishops or archbishop, much to the dismay of Glasgow’s Archbishop Boyd.

His powerful polemics against bishoprics soon took effect, and he began to convince the General Assembly of the need for the Presbyterian system to be adopted across the Kirk. It made him powerful enemies such as the Earl of Morton, the Regent for the child King James VI and a supporter of the cause for bishops.

In October, 1577, Morton told Melville, by now the leader of the winning faction in the Kirk, that “there will never be quietness in this country till half a dozen of you be hanged or banished”, to which Melville replied: “It is the same to me whether I rot in the air, or in the ground. The Earth is the Lord’s... let God be glorified, it will not be in your power to hang or exile his truth.”

He was not always popular at Glasgow University either, given his insistence that his doctrines were unchallengeable, but there was no doubt the effect he was having on the city as scholars rushed to this new centre of humanism and classical literature, reviving the university and the local economy.

Melville turned his great intellect to the organisation of the Kirk and it was here that he had his most profound effect. He oversaw the Second Book of Discipline which was adopted at the General Assembly of the Kirk in 1578, which made the church effectively Presbyterian with leaders elected in the Assembly, local presbyteries and synods.

His success was such that he was forced by the Assembly to go to St Andrews in 1580 and transform that university, too. St Andrews’s gain was Glasgow’s huge loss.

While he was still at Glasgow there was a curious incident. Thomas Crawford of Jordanhill, the soldier who had wrested Dumbarton Castle from the supporters of Mary, Queen of Scots, was told that the Kirk, possibly under Melville’s influence, wanted to remove the old Glasgow Cathedral. Crawford famously said “I am for pu’ing doon the auld kirk, but no till we ha’e first built a new ane,” and given his reputation as a warrior, the cathedral was preserved. This city and Scotland owes Crawford a massive debt.