Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Andrew Melville and the Ulster Scots


In the course of various things I've been reading recently, there's an emerging strain that connects some of the most influential early lowland Scots in Ulster right back to the Reformation, and in particular via Glasgow University.

Andrew Melville (photo of his statue in Stirling shown above, taken back in 2008) was John Knox's successor and a giant of his times, a Scot who spent time in France and Geneva as the Reformation soared. He "acquired European fame as an outstanding scholar in the literary world". By the time Melville reached the continent, John Calvin was dead, but Melville developed a close friendship with one of Calvin's closest associates, Theodore Beza. Andrew Melville came back to Scotland in 1574, becoming the Principal of Glasgow University. Melville blended his intellectual genius with spiritual leadership when he became the Moderator of the (Presbyterian) General Assembly in 1582. He famously humiliated King James VI by saying "Sirrah, ye are God's silly vassal; there are two kings and two kingdoms in Scotland: there is king James, the head of the commonwealth; and there is Christ Jesus, the king of the Church, whose subject James the Sixth is, and of whose kingdom he is not a king, not a lord, not a head, but a member." James never forgave him.

• 1605: Two of Andrew Melville's students were the architects of the first big Ulster-Scots settlement: - two Ayrshire Scots, Sir James Fullerton and Sir James Hamilton were at the centre of the land-deal with Irish Gaelic chieftain Con O'Neill of Clandeboye. Fullerton had been a student of Melville's at Glasgow University (described in McCrie's Life of Andrew Melville as "one of his most intimate and steady friends") and Hamilton was believed to have been one of Melville's students at St Andrews.

Hamilton and Fullerton had arrived at Dublin in 1587 and set up a school. A few years later they were both made fellows of Trinity College Dublin where they influenced and educated the young James Ussher*, the future Archbishop of Armagh. It has been said of Ussher that "in his earlier life he held rigidly the opinions of Calvin" (reference here), no doubt passed down to him by Hamilton and Fullerton, both of whom had been trained by Andrew Melville.

• 1606: Melville imprisoned / the settlement begins - By this stage King James VI of Scotland had become even more powerful, having also become King of England and Ireland in 1603. In 1606 he summoned Melville and some other Scottish ministers to London, where Melville vigourously protested against the King's ambitions to become head of the Church. Melville argued that a free General Assembly was essential - so the king had him arrested and imprisoned in the Tower of London for four years. It is hard to imagine the effect that the loss and vindictive persecution of a man like Melville would have had on Presbyterian Scotland. That same year the General Assembly had its first experience of what was described as 32 years of "kingly interference". 1606 was of course also the year that the aforementioned James Hamilton, and Hamilton's Ayrshire neighbour and rival Hugh Montgomery, began the large-scale permanent lowland Scots settlement of east Ulster. And as increasingly anti-Presbyterian laws were being regularly passed in Scotland in the early 1600s, the migration of Scots to Ulster grew stronger and stronger. A flow of young ministers followed the flow of people.

• 1606 - 1623: Glasgow University after Melville: Melville never returned to Scotland (after being released from the Tower he was forced into exile in France for the rest of his life) but his intellectual and spiritual legacy lived on. He was succeeded at Glasgow University by Thomas Smeaton (who had been in Geneva with Melville in the 1570s) and later by Robert Boyd. Boyd appointed a young Ayrshire graduate called Robert Blair to be Regent of the University. Blair would later become renowned in Ulster-Scots history as the minister at Bangor and the effective leader of the Ulster-Scots. At Glasgow, Blair's students included a James Hamilton (future minister at Ballywalter) and John Livingstone (future minister at Killinchy). During Blair's time at the University, one of his professorial colleagues was David Dickson, who later became minister at Blair's home town of Irvine in Ayrshire, and who was involved in the famous revival at nearby Stewarton. At exactly the same time Blair, Hamilton (and later) Livingstone were at the centre of the simultaneous Ulster revival just across the North Channel, centred around Sixmilewater.

• 1623 to the 1660s: The three young ministers and Glasgow graduates Blair, Hamilton and Livingstone became three of the most important figures in Ulster-Scots / Scots struggle of the Covenanters against the interference and opposition of the state against the will of the people - an experience which forged a Scottish migration into a solid Ulster-Scots community. All three stood against the increasingly tyrannical crown, all three were onboard Eagle Wing, after which all three returned to Scotland - where they played a central role in church and community life until their deaths.

• Melvilles in Ulster: According to the Montgomery Manuscripts, Melvilles who were descended from Andrew's brother James began to arrive in County Down, from Fife, around 1610 - in fact, a Jane Melville married William Hamilton of Newcastle in the Ards Peninsula, a younger brother of Sir James Hamilton.

Perhaps these Melvilles were just following the path which their ancestor Andrew Melville had laid the foundations for.

(* for more information about James Ussher, Crawford Gribben's book is hard to beat!)


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