Scotland’s First Martyr

by Moon Choi

With these last words, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit,” Patrick Hamilton died at 24 years old and became Scotland’s first martyr for the Protestant movement.

Born in 1504, Hamilton came from an extremely privileged family. Through his family’s influence, Hamilton was appointed to an Augustinian monastery at the age of 13. Rather than staying in Scotland, he left to study at the University of Paris. It was there that Hamilton encountered Luther’s theology based off of Scripture and Erasmus’s writings and his publication of the Greek New Testament. After earning a Master’s Degree from Paris, Hamilton set out to the Louvain in Belgium which was renown for the study of Greek, Hebrew and Latin.

After his studies in Paris, the 19 year old Hamilton went to St. Andrews University as a graduate student and a teacher. St. Andrews at the time was the Roman Catholic stronghold, “the very Vatican of the church of Scotland” (Tjernagel, 2). Hamilton never stood out as sympathetic to the reformation as he followed all the typical rituals of worship.

In 1525, warning signs of the Reformation in Scotland could be seen. The government took quick action to ban the possession of any reformation literature and decreed warnings about the heresies that would inevitably reach the students at St. Andrews University. With his continental education and his knowledge of reformation theology, Hamilton “was now conclusively brought…to accept the theological and spiritual reform of Luther in preference to the moral and disciplinary reform of his former master, Erasmus” (Tjernagel, 3).

In 1527, Hamilton decided to study Lutheran theology himself and set out for Wittenberg, Germany. Hamilton was able to hear Luther and other religious leaders preach. On top of that, “he found the monasteries deserted, priests married, and the people singing Christian hymns.” (Tjernagel, 3) To add to his already impressive academic resume, that year, Hamilton was in the first class of the University of Marburg. In his class were the English reformers William Tyndale and John Frith. Hamilton, at this time wrote what came to be known as “Patrick’s Places,” a series of textbook exercises which simply pointed to the gospel.

After a term at Marburg, Hamilton, now 23 years old, felt equipped to evangelize at home. He first converted the members of his family. Then he preached to the surrounding towns and countryside, even to the neighboring parish.

As Hamilton was tirelessly preaching the gospel, the Archbishop, Beaton, became aware of his activities. Beaton was in a bind as Hamilton was preaching heresy but was also from an influential family. Beaton bided his time, letting Hamilton continue preaching so that future charges could be indicted. Though pitted against the Hamilton family’s reputation, Beaton decided that Hamilton was to be put to death. Hamilton’s brother, Sir James Hamilton, came to know about his brother’s situation and mustered up a defensive force for his brother. He did not arrive in time. Hamilton, with thorough knowledge of his plight, came to the cathedral to be interrogated. He stood firm in his convictions. Beaton soon learned of Sir James Hamilton’s plans and had Patrick Hamilton kidnapped in the night. He accelerated Hamilton’s trial and had him successfully charged for heresy. That winter morning, Patrick Hamilton was burned from noon until six.

Hamilton was not the only one to fall as a martyr on Beaton’s watch. Eighteen years after his death, George Wishart was also burned. An outraged public violently protested and Beaton was also killed. During the course of his ministry, Wishart encountered a young man, John Knox, who would later become a French galley slave, then a pastor in England and chaplain to the young Kind Edward VI.

Hamilton’s life is remarkable in his pursuit of the knowledge of Scripture. He spent eleven years developing an esteemed academic career in four different countries, seeking to know the pure Word of God. His courage in light of his immediate plight is remarkably mature for someone of his age but one cannot help but realize that it is only natural that after becoming intimately acquainted with the Word, that he would not tremble before man but fearlessly serve his Lord Jesus Christ. (Tjernagel, Neelak S. Patrick Hamilton: Precursor of the Reformation in Scotland. Diss.)

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The Beacon is the monthly newsletter for Lighthouse Bible Church in San Diego, California. It covers a variety of subjects including LBC events, church history, current events from a Christan perspective, ministry profiles, and messages from our pastors and elders. To join the Beacon ministry, please contact Stephen Rodgers.

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