Malory Nye

published on 11 May 2016

Today is May 11, a date that has considerable historical significance for the city of Perth in Scotland. Indeed, it is also a very important day for Scotland too.

On this day in 1559, a large crowd went on a two-day rampage through the city, in particular emptying and then pulling down four ancient monasteries and religious houses. They were fired up by the words of the reformist preacher, John Knox, himself very recently returned to Scotland from exile in John Calvin’s Geneva. It is widely held that the sermon Knox preached in the church of St John’s in the centre of Perth on the morning of 11 May was the prime motivation for the ensuing events.

This riotous rampage was not random.

It was directed against the sites of the international social elite of the time. These were the wealthy religious orders of the dominant (Catholic) Church: the Dominicans (Blackfriars), Franciscans (Greyfriars), Carmelites (Whitefriars), and Carthusians.

These religious organisations, that were spread through many different countries, were large-scale landowners and politically well connected. They oiled the machinery of many European governments, contributed in large part to the elitist universities, and connected the ruling powers of the rival (and often warring) states of Catholic Christendom.

But these religious orders were also very out of touch with the societies in which they worked and preached, and were almost universally despised by the masses in Scotland. In many respects they were the 1 percent, bankers, and tax avoiders of the sixteenth century.

And so, after several years of political and religious tension in Scotland, the return of John Knox to his home country proved to be the spark that ignited wild fires of resentment against the Church, and in particular the representatives of the Church in these religious houses.


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Facing the Rascal Multitude: John Knox, May 11th, and Perth’s little-known revolution

by Malory Nye time to read: 2 min