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Laud’s Liturgy


We continue our look at the events of the early 17th Century in Scotland…


Charles I’s imposition of his divine right to rule upon the Kirk was by a series of subtle exercises, designed to achieve his ends.  He left the courts and forms of the church as yet untouched, but he bestowed Episcopal office upon a few select clergy, changed the communion table into an altar, compiled a prayer book for ministers to pray by, and gave the clergy liturgies to chant and surplices to wear.  He refused to give the General Assembly permission to meet.  Charles had consistently promoted high churchmen to prominent positions in the English Church. Among these appointees was Archbishop William Laud, an Anglo-Catholic priest. (Laud became Archbishop of Canterbury in 1633, having served two bishoprics previous to his enthronement as archbishop.  He was deeply opposed to Calvinism, and sought to re-establish the pre-reformation liturgical practices of the English Church.  His attempts to fulfil his vision led to disputes with the Puritans, and with the Presbyterian in Scotland, where he attempted to impose a new liturgy in 1638.  Laud was impeached by the ‘Long Parliament’, and imprisoned in 1641, tried in 1644 and finally executed in 1545.)  Laud drew up a new liturgy for Scotland, based loosely on the Book of Common Prayer, and with a heavy Anglo-Catholic emphasis.  It had embedded within it the doctrine of baptismal regeneration, the very essence of Romanism. (In Ireland at this time, Laud encouraged the bishops to regain any ground they had lost to the Presbyterian cause.  At the beginning of the century a small number of ministers had practiced Presbyterianism under the benign watch of the godly Archbishop Ussher, under whose ambit all the churches in Ireland fell, and whose fifteen ‘Articles of Faith’ were remarkably Calvinistic.   Under his rule Presbyterians and Anglicans had worshipped together with little conflict for twenty years.   Laud changed that, persecuted the Presbyterians and caused several of their number to flee, among them Rev. Robert Blair of Bangor and Rev John Livingston of Killinchy.)

Dean Hannay first read the new Scottish Prayer book, which became known as ‘Laud’s Liturgy’, at St Giles’ Cathedral in Edinburgh, on the third Sunday in July 1637. There is an interesting story relating to the first reading of the Liturgy. It is believed that a vegetable-seller, known as Jenny Geddis was in the church for the service.  When the Dean began to read the liturgy, Geddis rose to her feet, shouting, “The devil give thee bellyache!  Woulds’t thou say mass in my lug!”

Geddis then proceeded to throw her stool across the room at the dean.  How much of this is legend is unknown, but there is a plaque on the floor of St. Giles Cathedral today, which marks the point from where Geddis registered her protest.  The protest is thought to have been both heavily organised and heavily politicised.  One thing is certain.  The protest spilled over into the street, a riot ensued and the service was abandoned.

News of the riot spread fast, and thousands began to flood into Edinburgh to join the protest, for it had united both the common people and the nobility who shared a common resentment against foreign interference upon Scottish independence.  The Privy Council called for the formation of a committee of commissioners, with whom they could enter into discussion.  Committees or TABLES were formed, each representing one of the four ‘estates’ of the realm, i.e. the nobles, the barons, the burgesses and the clergy.  The Noblemen’s committee took the lead, calling for a petition, to resist the Scottish Prayer Book and the King’s Reforms.  Two men who were to become central to the covenanting cause in the days following the signing drafted the petition.  They were Alexander Henderson, minister of Leuchars, and Archibald Johnston a young Edinburgh lawyer.

From → Covenanters, History

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