Index for Chapters XXI-XXIX

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Chapter XXIV: The Abercorns and the Kirk

“New Presbyter is but Old Priest writ large.”

AFTER Mr. Andro Knox had been induced to leave Paisley, and retire to his island diocese, three ministers of the name of Hamilton [1] appear to have, one after the other, succeeded him. Of these we know little : the Presbytery records for this period are awanting, and they are almost our only source of information regarding the Parish at this time. In 1626 the Presbyterial minutes are resumed, and the curtain, when lifted, reveals to us a somewhat stormy scene.

The family of Abercorn continued to live in the Abbey buildings, or, as these were called, the “Place of Paisley.” Claud Hamilton, the Commendator, was succeeded by his grandson, the second Earl of Abercorn—his own son, who had borne that title, having died before his father. The youthful Earl seems to have resided principally in England and France, probably among the friends who had received his grandfather in his period of banishment. During his minority and while absent, the affairs of the family were managed by his mother, Dame Marion Boyd, first Countess of Abercorn—a woman of great determination and energy.
[2] The family had outwardly conformed to Protestantism, and any desire they may have had to support the old faith with which they had been so closely connected, was repressed by the stern discipline exercised by the Kirk, and, in particular, by Mr. Andro Knox, who had a keen eye for marking a heretic, and who would have made it especially disagreeable for them had they shewn any inclination towards “Papacy.” They cherished, therefore, their religious convictions in secret, waiting for a time when they might venture to profess them openly. Such a time seemed to be at hand. Only some fifty years had elapsed since the Archbishop's death, and the Protestants began to fight among themselves. The great questions agitated were not whether the Pope was Antichrist, and the Mass idolatry, but whether Bishops were lawful in a Christian commonwealth, and whether the sacrament should be taken kneeling at an altar or sitting at a table. There was a lull in the persecution of the Papists, and the persecuted ventured to assert themselves. “All this summer season, 1626 (says Wodrow), many persons, both men and women, south, west, east, and north, kythed themselves, by proud speeches, yea, and sometimes by deeds, declared themselves Papists.” Among these “persons” was Marion Boyd, Countess of Abercorn, who resided sometimes in Paisley and sometimes at Blackston, the pleasant residence and grange of the Abbots, which, with the other possessions of the convent, had passed to her family. She and her household, and many in Paisley, began openly to avow themselves followers of the old religion, and found to their cost that the persecuting spirit of Presbytery was still as fierce and vigorous as it had ever been. Mr. Alexander Hamilton, who appears to have been minister of Paisley towards the close of 1625, resigned his charge, and Mr. Boyd of Trochrigg was invited by Lord Ross of Halkhead and other parishioners of Paisley, in the absence of the Earl of Abercorn, to take his place. This distinguished divine was well known, not only in Scotland, but also abroad. He was a man of great erudition, and had filled many situations of eminence at home and in France. He had been professor at Montauban, minister at Anteuil, Principal of the Universities of Samur, Glasgow, and Edinburgh, and had the reputation of being one of the most learned men of his time. His last appointment he had lost through his opposition to some new developments of Episcopacy; but as he now seemed ready to conform, it was thought the Parish of Paisley would be fortunate in obtaining his services. It was supposed, also, that his appointment would be acceptable to the Abercorn family, as he was related to the Countess. [3] But it did not suit the purpose of that bold lady that any preacher should be “planted” in Paisley. The letter from the parishioners to Mr. Boyd was very pressing:—

[1] Patrick Hamilton is mentioned in the Presbytery records as Mr. Knox's successor; Archibald Hamilton in those of the Town Council as paying a sum of money to the burgh on January 4, 1617; and Wodrow mentions Boyd of Trochrigg as succeeding Mr. Alexander Hamilton on his resignation.
[2] She is mentioned in the Town Council records as electing a Bailie for Paisley in her son's absence.
[3] “He was of noble descent, being related by his father, James Boyd, to the noble families of Boyd and Cassilis, and by his mother, Margaret Chalmers, daughter of James Chalmers, Baron of Gadgirth, to the families of Glencairn and Loudon.”