Andrew Melville’s Unrestrained Tongue

This is the day that … Andrew Melville was born in 1545. His family displayed the fighting Scottish spirit and his father died in battle when Andrew was just 2 years old. His mother died soon after and the lad was raised by his older brother.

With an aptitude for scholarship he outshone his peers in classic languages, studied abroad and became an educator himself. On his return to Scotland he was so effective in upgrading the universities there that they could not contain the students who wished to come.

Yet while this Scottish Reformer has been called “the father of Presbyterianism”, he was direct of speech and unafraid to speak roughly where he felt it appropriate.

As John Knox had withstood Queen Mary’s Romanist tendencies a generation previous, now the battle was with King James IV who declared that he was supreme “over all persons and causes, civil and ecclesiastical alike” (Fathers of the Kirk, page 48).

At an historic meeting in 1596 Andrew Melville called the King, to his face, “God’s sillie vassal,” and taking the king by the sleeve went on to remind him that there were two kingdoms in Scotland … and one of those was ruled by King Jesus, to whom King James IV must bow as a subject!

This fearless Scot was imprisoned in the Tower of London (1609-1611), in response to his writing a sarcastic review of English ecclesiastical practices. Then, at the request of a French noble, he was released to take up a professorship on the Continent. There he died, in Sedan, France, in 1622.

J.D. Douglas writes: “It was Presbyterianism of the type Melville had forged that ultimately won the victory some 80 years after his banishment and which still forms the basis of the national Church of Scotland today” (and of Presbyterian churches around the world). (Who’s Who in Church History, page 469).

This post is based on the work of my late friend Donald Prout whose love for books and Christian history led him to collate a daily Christian calendar. I continue to work with Don’s wife, Barbara, to share his life work with the world. I have updated some of these historical posts and will hopefully draw from Don’s huge files of clippings to continue this series beyond Don’s original work. More of Don’s work can be found at