Scotland's Protestant Martyrs: Thomas Forret

By Aaaron Denlinger - Posted at Reformation 21:

The persecution of Protestants in Scotland, at least if measured in martyrdoms, peaked in 1539, shortly after Cardinal David Beaton, a zealous opponent of reform, was appointed primate of the country. Glasgow witnessed the execution of two individuals that year: Jerome Russell, a Dominican friar whose preaching revealed Protestant sympathies, and Alexander Kennedy, a teenager whose talent for writing poetry caused him trouble when he turned it to criticizing the clergy. An anonymous man was executed in the town of Cupar, near St. Andrews, around the same time. And on the First of March, Scotland's capital saw no less than five persons "wirried and brint" -- that is, hanged and burned -- for heresy: William Keillour, John Beveridge, Duncan Simpson, Robert Forster, and Thomas Forret.

Of the five "heresiarchs" executed in Edinburgh, none had quite so fascinating a tale as Thomas Forret, an Augustinian monk turned Vicar whose passion for Scripture and preaching, coupled with frank observation of the institutional Church's doctrinal and practical failings, earned him a place at the stake at the crest of the Royal Mile, just east of Edinburgh Castle.

The specifics of Forret's birth remain unknown, though he apparently came from a well-to-do family. He was related to the Lairds of Forret in Fife, and his father, also named Thomas, served as Master of the Stables to King James IV in the early sixteenth century. Following initial education in Scotland, Forret studied at the University of Cologne. He returned to Scotland a "fervent Papist" (in the words of one early modern commentator), and shortly afterwards joined the Augustinian monastery on the island of Inchcolm in the Firth of Forth.

It was in the monastery that Forret's reforming instincts were awakened. Interestingly, such doesn't seem to have been driven by exposure to reforming ideas from the continent, perhaps an indication that Forret's conversion to "Protestant" ideas preceded the proper existence of Protestantism. The story goes that a conflict had broken out between Inchcolm's Abbot and the Augustinian monks regarding their "portion," that is, their daily allowance of food and wine. Such squabbles were common in the late-medieval world, since abbots frequently indulged their temptation to reduce said portions as a way to cut down on costs (and/or to pad their own pockets). In the course of this conflict, Inchcolm's monks managed to get their hands on "the booke of their foundatioun," the charter of their own monastic house that presumably stipulated what their daily allowance should be. It's likely that Forret was at the center of this skirmish, not least because, given his education, he was well equipped to read the foundational charter of the monastery -- something that can't be assumed about all of Inchcolm's early modern monastic residents. 


Popular Posts (Last 30 days)