Patrick Hamilton was burned at the stake on the 29th of February, 1528.
Scotland has had its fair share of martyrs of one sort or another, including those who were put to death for their religious beliefs. Those latter include George Wishart and Patrick Hamilton, but not John Knox; more's the pity some might say. Aye, Knox was too canny to get his fingers burnt and mibbees, if they'd tried to burn him at the stake, the flames would daurnae approach. Burning at the stake became a kind of Catholic frenzy for a while, but it was self defeating. The dead might have fed the crows, but the manner of their death and its legacy fanned the flames of insurrection. A reformation they called it and by the time poor Pate was murdered, it was well under way, although the powers that were at the time considered it
rebellious. What they did was certainly revolting.
The Reformation in Scotland was formally established by the Reformation Parliament of 1560, which repudiated the Pope's authority, forbade the celebration of the Mass and approved a Protestant Confession of Faith. Unsurprisingly, the Scottish Reformation reshaped the Kirk in Scotland and ultimately, that catharsis influenced all other Presbyterian churches worldwide. Men like Wishart and Hamilton before him were following a tradition and had become part of something inevitable; the wider European Protestant Reformation, the spark for which is typically attributed to Martin Luther.
In 1525, the Parliament in Scotland had banned the importation of Lutheran books. Part of the ruling contained the following: “Forasmuch as the damnable opinions of heresy are spread in divers countries by the heretic Luther and his disciples... no manner of person... that happens to arrive with the ships within any part of this realm, [shall] bring with them any books or works of said Luther's, his disciples or servants ...[or] dispute or rehearse his heresies or opinions... .”
Patrick Hamilton, is credited with being Scotland's first Protestant martyr. Actually, the first martyr in St. Andrews was a Czech Hussite and Lollard, Paul Craw, who was burned at the market cross in 1433, for promoting Wycliffe’s translation of the Bible. Hamilton was born in 1504, in Stanehouse, in the diocese of Glasgow, and wasn't far removed from the Stewart Royals. Patrick's mother was a daughter of Alexander, Duke of Albany, who was the second son of James II. Connections failed him there, though, at the end.
Pat was educated at Linlithgow and, in 1517, he was appointed titular abbot of Ferne, in Ross-shire. Yep, he was just thirteen; get over it. About that same year, he tootled off to France, to study at Montaigu, in Paris, from where he graduated in 1520. There's no doubt that it was in Paris that Hamilton got exposed to Martin Luther's writings. After graduating, Hamilton left Paris and went to Louvain, in Holland, where he probably met Erasmus, during 1521. Back in Scotland and on the 9th of June, 1523, Hamilton joined St. Mary's College at the University of St. Andrews as a graduate student and teacher, and about eighteen months later, on the 3rd of October, 1524, he was admitted to the Faculty of Arts.
Hamilton was a talented mannie by all accounts and his artistic bent stretched as far as having composed his own musical mass, which he conducted as preceptor. Notwithstanding the Mass, his unease with the mess that was Catholic theology had become strong and he became eager to communicate the alternative, reformed doctrines to his fellows. He was on the slippery slope to martyrdom already.
A mere three and a third years later, Hamilton was died, but not before another sojourn to the Continent, to whence he fled, early in 1527, after James Beaton, the Archbishop of St. Andrews or the Antichrist, take your pick, got wind of his 'heretical' activities. Who defines a heretic, you might ask. Anyway, Hamilton went to Germany, where he paid a visit to Herr Luther, at Wittenberg, where he also met Philip Melanchthon. In Germany, Hamilton enrolled as a student at the then fairly new University of Marburg. It was in Marburg, that Hamilton met the Bible-translator, William Tyndale and his mate John Frith. It was the latter who translated Hamilton's 'Diverse Fruitful Gatherings of Scripture Concerning Faith and Works' into English. That work was to become known as 'Patrick’s Places' and it found its way into 'Fox’s Book of Martyrs'. Whatever he thought of Germany, it's clear that Hamilton was homesick as he was back in Scotland before the onset of winter that same year of 1527. Unbeknownst to him, it was to be his last winter.
Somehow or other, during his time at St. Andrews, Hamilton seems to have managed to be ordained as a priest, despite having been, at best, two years below the legal age of admittance, which was twenty-five. Thus armed with sufficient legitimacy for his preachings, Hamilton's course was set. Beaton's recourse was to have invited Hamilton to St. Andrews, where he gave him enough rope to hang himsel' as the saying goes – maybe we should say, in Hamilton's case, allowed him to collect his own kindling.
For nigh on a month, Hamilton was permitted to preach in public, but think on this; he was in effect merely giving his intended accusers enough evidence for his prosecution. Hamilton was arraigned before a council of bishops and clergy, presided over by his nemesis, Beaton. There were thirteen charges, seven of which were based on the doctrines affirmed in the Loci communes and which Hamilton steadfastly maintained were simple truths. Not wishing to hear what they did not wish to hear, Beaton's council condemned Hamilton as a heretic. Yes, indeed, an unlucky thirteen for Patrick Hamilton; he was sentenced to be burned at the stake.
Hamilton's brother, Sir James, was foiled in his rescue by a storm in the Firth of Forth, but wind of the attempt hastened the execution. The stake was erected outside the front gate of St. Salvator's College to where Hamilton was marched at noon on the 29th of February, 1528. Hamilton was unrepentant unto death stating calmly, “I will not deny [my confession] for awe of your fire... I will rather be content that my body burn in this fire... than my soul should burn in the fire of hell for denying the same.” Hamilton was bound to the stake by an iron chain and had some gunpowder hung around his neck, but the attempt to light it ended in a spluttering failure, signalling the general incompetence of his executioners. Wind and rain, and lack of fuel, hindered the whole sorry process and Hamilton's death was a prolonged agony.
Fresh materials were brought to the fire and it wasn’t until six in the evening that Hamilton's body was reduced to ashes, but he was dead long before that, of course. His last words had been, “How long. Lord, shall darkness overwhelm this kingdom? How long wilt Thou suffer this tyranny of men? Lord Jesus, receive my spirit!”
An oft quoted phrase is that of John Lindsay, who pronounced, “the reek of Patrick Hamilton hath infected all those on whom it blew.” That was uttered on the occasion of the martyrdom of a young monk called Henry Forrest, who was suffocated in secret, lest more fuel be piled on the all consuming fire of raging Protestant inevitability. Those fires were to consume Beaton in his turn, albeit not literally – he was stabbed to death.
On the seafront at St. Andrews, there stands a monument to the Protestant martyrs who died between in St Andrews. Hamilton’s name is first on the list.