Lords of the Congregation

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The Lords of the Congregation, originally styling themselves "the Faithful Congregation of Christ Jesus in Scotland",[1] were a group of Protestant Scottish nobles who in the mid-16th century favoured a reformation of the church according to Protestant principles and a Scottish-English alliance.

Historical events

In December 1557 a group of Scottish lords opposed the marriage of the young Queen Mary of Scotland to the Dauphin of France (who became King Francis II of France from 1559 to 1560). The group signed the 'First Band' or Covenant to work to make Scotland Protestant.[2] The initial members were the Earl of Argyll, his brother Colin Campbell, the Earl of Glencairn, the Earl of Morton, and John Erskine of Dun, though others, such as William Douglas of Whittinghame quickly followed.

Following religious riots in Perth, the Lords gained support and provided military help to John Knox in opposing the troops of Mary of Guise. Near Cupar, in Fife, the Lords fielded enough military strength to face off a French and Scottish army jointly led by the Duke of Châtelherault (who as Regent had supported the French match) and by D'Oysel the French king's lieutenant.[3] By July 1559 the Lords of the Congregation had taken Edinburgh. As Edinburgh Castle held out against them, the Lords withdrew under the terms of the truce of the Articles of Leith (25 July 1559). In September, Châtelherault, now joined by his son the Earl of Arran, changed sides and became leader of the Congregation Lords.

Mary of Guise, who had earlier offered a degree of religious tolerance, maintained that their motives were secular in part. Queen Mary and King Francis wrote to her in November 1559, declaring that the lords were acting maliciously under the name and cloak of religion.[4] French re-inforcements pushed the Lords and their Protestant army back to Stirling and Fife.

By the Treaty of Berwick in February 1560 the Lords brought in an English army to resist the French troops. The armed conflict now centered on the Siege of Leith. After the death of the Queen Regent in June and the conclusion of hosilities at Leith by the Treaty of Edinburgh in July, the Scottish Reformation took effect in the Parliament of Scotland in August 1560.[5]


Sir William Kirkcaldy of Grange and John Knox gave a list of members of the Congregation who expelled the troops of Mary of Guise from Perth in June 1559 and moved on Edinburgh, namely:

These were joined in Edinburgh in July 1559 by: Alexander Cunningham, Earl of Glencairn; the Earl of Morton; Lord Erskine; Robert, Lord Boyd; Lord Ochiltree; Hugh Campbell, Sheriff of Ayr; and the Laird of Calder.

Knox and Kirkcaldy gave the names of another six lords who had not yet declared their alliance in July 1559; William Keith, 4th Earl Marischal; the Earl of Athol; Lord Forbes; and James Douglas, Laird of Drumlanrig; the Laird of Lochinvar; and the Laird of Garlies.[6]

A list of the council for policy of the Lords of October 1559 includes; the former Regent Arran; his son the 3rd Earl of Arran; the Earl of Argyll; the Prior of St Andrews; the Earl of Glencairn; Lord Ruthven; Robert, 4th Lord Boyd; Lord Maxwell; Erskine of Dun; Wishart of Pitarrow; Henry Balnaves of Halhill; Kirkcaldy of Grange; and James Halyburton Provost of Dundee.

The congregation received guidance in religious matters from:

Manifesto and rhetoric

Several letters and bonds signed by the Lords set out and justify their aims. A letter sent to enlist the help of George Hay, Earl of Erroll, Hereditary Constable of Scotland, written 24 January 1560 focussed on their secular goal to expel the French garrisons and justifies their request for English military support. The letter fell into French hands and would have been used against them;

We wrote ... how we were handled and suppressed by strangers and already invaded by fire and sword for the debating of the true ministry of god's word and liberty of this realm, which as we may see is now taken effect in the most cruel and ungodly manner by the fortifying of the principal port of this realm (Leith) and the intended fortification of St Andrews
And they have in their progress used such cruelty on those that gave them most credit and were assured by them that all others may take example, And yet they intend no less than to bring us, if god will permit them, to most wild slavery and bondage and to make plain conquest under a coloured authority to the utter extermination of us and our posterity
And because we saw them continue in their unjust persecution and our force is so small to resist their tyranny we thought good to seek support of our neighbours of England, which they have granted to us as may now be manifestly seen by the army already come by sea, and by the land host that will march on the day appointed.[8]

This letter was signed by James Hamilton the former Regent, Argyll, Glencairn, Rothes, Ruthven, Menteith and Boyd.


  1. T C Smout, A History of the Scottish People, 1560-1830, Collins 1969, p.53
  2. Tom Steel: Scotland's Story, HarperCollins 1984, p 79
  3. Pamela Ritchie, Mary of Guise in Scotland, 1548-1560 : A Political Career, East Linton, Tuckwell Press, (2002): Eric Durot, « Le Crépuscule de l'Auld Alliance. La légitimité du pouvoir en question entre France, Angleterre et Écosse (1558-1561) », Histoire, Économie & Société, 2007, p.3–46: Lindsay of Pitscottie, Robert, History of Scotland, Edinburgh (1814), 536-545.
  4. Michaud & Poujalat (ed.), Nouvelle Collection pour servir a l'histoire de France.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>, vol. 6 (1839), 451-453, Blois, November 1559.
  5. Acts of the Parliaments of Scotland, vol. ii (1814), 525-535, August 1560.
  6. Calendar of State Papers Scotland, vol. i (1898), 219-220, Kirkcaldy to Percy 1 July 1559.
  7. Clifford, Arthur ed., Sadler State Papers, vol.i, Constable, Edinburgh (1809), 210, Randall to Ralph Sadler and James Croft, 22 October 1559
  8. Dickinson, Gladys, ed., 'Report by De La Brosse and D'Oysel', Miscellany of The Scottish History Society, no. 9, SHS (1958), 96 (here modernised: the French copyists in 1560 took care to preserve the original spelling)