The Reformation in Scotland, to 1587

The Reformation in Scotland, to 1587


  • The Reformation was a movement that swept across Europe in the 16th century, overthrowing the supremacy of the Roman Catholic Church and establishing Protestant churches.
  • The spark for the Reformation in Scotland was ignited by Martin Luther’s protests against Church corruption in Germany.
  • Key figures like John Knox were instrumental in spreading Reformation ideas in Scotland.

Causes of the Reformation in Scotland

  • Dissatisfaction with the Catholic Church’s spiritual authority and perceived corruption, particularly over the selling of indulgences.
  • The influence of Lutheran ideas, which emphasised individual relationship with God and authority of the Bible over that of the Church.
  • The translation of the Bible into vernacular languages, including English and Scots, allowing more people to interpret it directly.
  • The influence of humanist scholars like George Buchanan, who critiqued the Church and supported reform in education, society, and religion.

Impact of the Reformation

  • Establishment of the Church of Scotland (the Kirk) as a national Protestant church in 1560, which significantly lessened the power of the Catholic Church.
  • End of Papal authority in Scotland, making the Kirk free from foreign control.
  • Introduction of ‘The Book of Discipline’, creating a new system of church governance and education. Parish schools were established to provide universal education with emphasis on literacy.
  • Scots Parliament confiscated Church lands and wealth, redistributing them among the nobility.

Role of Mary Queen of Scots

  • Initially, Mary, a Catholic, tried to balance Catholic and Protestant interests to keep peace in her realm.
  • However, after she married Lord Darnley, a Catholic, suspicions about her intentions grew.
  • Mary’s marriage to James Hepburn, Earl of Bothwell, seen as an involved party in her husband Darnley’s murder, caused uproar among the Scottish nobles leading to her abdication.
  • Her son James VI was raised as a Protestant, solidifying the Reformation in Scotland.


  • By 1587, the Protestant Reformation had firmly taken hold in Scotland.
  • The Roman Catholic Church had been replaced by the Protestant Church of Scotland, and the society had undergone significant changes in its religious and educational systems.
  • The Reformation had major political implications, altering the balance of power and paving the way for the Union of the Crowns in 1603.
  • Mary Queen of Scots’ reign, despite being fraught with scandal and power struggles, contributed to the consolidation of Protestantism in Scotland.