"If not one of the first three mighty men of the Scottish Reformation, John Davidson of Dunfermline, was undoubtedly prominent amongst those valiant men used to preserve and promote Presbyterian Protestantism in the difficult years between the death of John Knox in 1572 and his own death in 1604". Historian Hugh M. Cartwright
The history of Dunfermline goes back to a remote period, for the early Celtic monks known as Culdees had an establishment here; but its fame and prosperity date from the marriage of Malcolm Canmore and his queen Margaret, which was solemnized in the town in 1070. The king then lived in a tower on a mound surrounded on three sides by the glen. A fragment of this castle still exists in Pittencrieff Park, a little west of the later palace. Under the influence of Queen Margaret in 1075 the foundations were laid of the Benedictine priory, which was raised to the rank of an abbey by David I. Robert Bruce gave the town its charter in 1322, though in his Fife: but untill the confirming charter of James VI. (1588) all burghal privileges were granted by the abbots.
Dunfermline - (Gaelic, “the fort on the crooked linn”) 18th Century Map
The Benedictine Abbey of the Holy Trinity and St Margaret, was founded in 1128 by King David I of Scotland, but the monastic establishment was based on an earlier foundation dating back to the reign of his father King Máel Coluim mac-Donnchada, i. e. "Malcolm III" or "Malcolm Canmore" (1058-1093), and his queen, St Margaret of Scotland. At the peak of its power the abbey controlled four burghs, three courts of regality, and a large portfolio of lands from Moray in the north south to Berwickshire. In the decades after its foundation the abbey was the recipient of considerable endowments, as seen from the dedication of 26 altars donated by individual benefactors and guilds and it was an important destination for pilgrims because it hosted the reliquary shrine and cult of Saint Margaret of Scotland, from whom the abbey later claimed foundation and for which an earlier foundation charter was fabricated. The foundations of the earliest church, namely the Church of the Holy Trinity, are under the superb Romanesque nave built in the 12th century. Dunfermline was a favorite residence of many Scottish monarchs. Documented history of royal residence there begins in the 11th century with Malcolm III who made it his capital. His seat was the nearby Malcolm's Tower, a few hundred yards to the west of the later palace. In the medieval period David II and James I of Scotland were both born at Dunfermline. Dunfermline Palace was attached to the Dunfermline Abbey, occupying a site between the abbey and deep gorge to the south. It is connected to the former monastic residential quarters of the abbey via a gatehouse above a pend (or yett), one of Dunfermline's medieval gates. The building therefore occupies what was originally the guest house of the abbey.
During the winter of 1303, Edward I of England and his court was held in the abbey, and on his departure of the following year he burned most of the buildings. James V (1512-1542) and his second wife Mary of Guise also used the palace. During the Scottish Reformation, the abbey church had undergone a first Protestant ‘cleansing’ in September of 1559, and was sacked by a rampaging mob in March 1560. By September 1563 the choir and feretory chapel were roofless, and it was said that the nave was also in a sorry state, with the walls so extensively damaged that it was a danger to enter. Some parts of the abbey infrastructure still remain, principally the vast refectory and rooms over the gatehouse which was part of the former city wall. The nave was also spared and it was repaired in 1570.
Reformer Johne Davidson's family comes from Dunfermline, where the Davidson family had been well established for three generations. His father was Thomas Davidson, one of eight siblings, his grandfather was Sir Johne Ferguson Davidson II. His great-grandfather was a former Burgess of Queensferi. Burgesses were merchants or craftsmen who owned property in burghs and were allowed to trade in burghs free of charge. They could obtain these rights by inheritance, by marriage, by purchase, or by the gift of a burgh. Burghs were essentially urban settlements which enjoyed trading privileges. James IV set about to reformed the administration of Crown lands. Both he and the Roman Church created new tribunals to be more efficient, professional, gain control of the localities, and more responsive to the monarch's realm.
Johne Ferguson Davidson became a district councillor to King James IV when he moved to Dumfermline in 1500, as the Cathedral was being repaired and a Royal residence was added. The building was remodelled by James IV around 1500 from the monastic Guest House. James IV came to the palaces and gave tips to masons and craftsmen. James IV and his wife Margaret Tudor frequently stayed at the palace. In November 1504, Margaret Tudor was living at the royal residence. The Davidsons of Dunfermline were owners of much property in houses and land. As, ‘Tenants-in-chief’ (or vassal-in-chief), they legally held their lands under various forms directly from the king and who by this period were often the major local landholders in an area. During this period, the old feudal distinctions were declining and the political influence of barons or tenants-in-chief had emerged to form a new identifiable group, aka, the lairds. The king had the right to collect scutage (tax) from the barons who held these honors. Scutage (literally shield money) was a tax collected from vassals in lieu of military service.
RUINS OF DUNFERMLINE ABBEY
Reformer Johne Davidson was born in 1549, in Dunfermline to moderately wealthy parents, named Thomas Davidson and Mary Davidson. Johne had one brother: Simon Davidson. Johne married Kate Davidson in 1572, at age 23. They had 9 children: Hans Davidson, Ellen Davidson and 7 other children. (according to available records) In poor health, Johne Davidson passed away in 1604, at the age of 55.
Johne Davidson was a first cousin to Hendrie Davidson, also from Dunfermline. Hendrie (Henry) Davidson is a direct ancestor of my grandmother Eva Davidson. Dunfermline was the scene of one of the first Reformed ministries in Scotland. Johne had a Catholic education and took an interest in the dramatic religious, political and military events of his youth. When Reformation controversy first arose, Davidson's family was raised and adhered to the Roman Catholic Church, but Johne changed his views and joined the Reformation movement while he was attending the University of Paris.
It should be noted that the reformation of the Church of England had been initiated under the government of the sovereign. Whereas the Reformed Church of Scotland, was established in opposition to the royal will, and at once proceeded to exercise a kind of independent jurisdiction. That jurisdiction was frequently extended beyond the strict limits of the ecclesiastical province. Parliaments were summoned at normal intervals, and their decisions did not much affect or concern the majority of the people. But the General Assembly of the Church, consisting of representative clergy and lay elders, met frequently, and in its deliberations, the multitudes manifested a deep interest in all areas of public concerns. Its principal deliverances were published from every Protestant-Reformation pulpit, and were regarded with a veneration intentionally dissociated from all Papal rule and Catholic superstitions.
As a lad Johne Davidson had been a pupil of David Ferguson (who was one of six original appointed Reformation ministers) and Johne would later became an disciple of John Knox. As he grew, Johne was always fully committed to the strict and uncompromising views of church doctrine. As a Reformer, he embraced the independence of Protestant faith and considered it his sworn duty of resisting the monarchy’s instituting his prelacy, – the king’s control over the Christian Church by appointing individuals of high social rank and power in order to gain loyalty and wealth. In near unaminous agreement, historians have recorded that had Johne expressed himself less ardently, he would faired better in accomplishing his aims with King James, and avoided the unfortunate persecution and much personal discomfort. But Johne's stern assertion of his opinions, - first in open defiance of a very ambitious, and aggrandizing Regent Morton, secondly, his public views of the detestable Duke of Lennox as the questionable companion and lover to King James, thirdly, and more importantly, his direct animus towards King James' distorted belief of "divine right as king". All of which, had rendered Johne's career a memorable one. Johne was a sound theologian, a respected councillor, an "eloquent declaimer", and one of the most accomplished early scholars of the Reformed Scottish Church. As a devoted evangelist, his fervor was boundless; he reanimated the waning zeal of his church brethren, reprimanded clerical hypocrisy, and in a degree not inferior to the most distinguished of his contemporaries upheld those principles of freedom and the importance of availablity and common access to the scriptures for all. The boy king himself was a young scholar, who enjoyed studying and was effeminate, not naturally inclined towards sport. The teenage James revel in reading poetry and learning languages from Greek to Latin and French as well. Not known to be a social creature James nevertheless cultivated a questionable friendship with the married 37-year-old Esme Stuart, 1st Earl of Lennox, to who he also dedicated a poem. What more likely began as a crush for the then 14-year-old James it is the first indication of the Scottish king’s latent homosexuality which the Protestant nobles disdained given James's enjoyment of demonstrating his public displays of affection with the Earl. Stuart was accused of seducing the young king, drawing him into a ‘carnal lust’. James would later develop relationships with several male lovers. For James, still, a gangly, awkward youth, his interest in the handsome men at court found an outlet in poetry as one way to express his secret, and for the time, forbidden feelings. Despite James having relations with men, he had later adopted a severe stance against ‘sodomy’ using English law. He even listed the act of sodomy in one of his books as being among ‘horrible crimes which ye are bound in conscience never to forgive’ and ordered judges never to issue pardons to those found guilty of it.
Over the course of his life, Johne would have many audiences with King James. James considered them as the two intellectual equals who would often spar over their opinions regarding the Presbyteries and the Three Estates of the Parliament of Scotland. At times their debates were pointed exchanges with Johne's accusations of a neglectful king, that would astonish many of those present in the king's court.
Johne would eventually be sentenced to confinement within the property of his own parish in Prestonpans by order of an exasperated King James, who had once threaten Johne standing in his presence “Were you not an old man, I would have your head removed from your shoulders!!” Was it in jest by a sneering king?, who possibly as a final jab at their ongoing feud, or was it a very real threat from an exhaustberated king who considered Johne an constantt thorn-in-his-side who fails to understand the proper bounds of propriety. Either way Johne was man the young King despised and admired at the same time.
Years later, through shrewd political expediency King James (now King of England) would surprise an assembly of Puritans by approving their request for an English Bible. But not without a scornful put-down of their Geneva Bible (the Puritans' preferred-translation) and of the whole thought of attempting an English Bible translation was laughable. The king's famous response was that he could never imagine a Bible translated well in English, but the worst of all, his Majesty thought, was having the Geneva version. To him it was considered a "poor and empty" request from a handful of dejected Puritans. Funny how God works!
How Johne spent his boyhood years at his native place, is quite unknown: but he must have been studiously inclined, for this is evident from the fact that he was destined for the Church and considered by historians as one of three greatest reformers in Scotland’s church history. "Johne Davidson," says Thomas M’Crie, - a friend, colleague and later, Reformation historian "was James Melville's predecessor at Glasgow, and was a clergyman before the Reformation, he had studied at the University in Paris." The average student's age of first year registration at the University of Paris was 10 in the first half of the 16th century. This average disguises the substantial range of ages of the student population, as many of whom were full grown adults. Most universities attracted their students because of their high reputations, i.e., Pisa for medicine, Leiden for law, and Paris for philosophy. Paris was highly reputed for its academic performance in the humanities – notably in theology and philosophy – it introduced several academic standards and traditions. A vast numbers of popes, royalty, scientists, and intellectuals were educated at the University of Paris. Only baptized Christians were allowed to be students at the university, non-Christians were banned from attending. Most medieval students were required to pay their teachers, known as “masters”, for their instruction, and so they had to be able to afford this sum. Students also had to pay for the supplies that they needed, such as books, clothing, and food. Apparently this was not a issue with young Johne. Educational attainment required was usually vague, but students needed enough Latin to understand the lectures and to be able express themselves. All students were expected to be able to read and speak Latin. All academic debates (known as disputations) also occurred in Latin.
The earliest recorded notice we have of reaching his eminent divine manhood, was after he had completed his ecclesiastical studies and received an appointment to be placed at the head of the college in Glasgow. It is here that he is befriended by John Knox.
A notable incident occurred in 1574 which displayed the pusillanimity as well as the grasping avarice of the infamous Regent Morton (James Douglas, 4th Earl of Morton). Among other plans for replenishing his coffers Morton had fallen upon the expediency of increasing his revenues by uniting three or four parishes under the care of a single bishop. The bishop collected the monies intended for benevolent works and forward them to Morton after taking an perviously agreed upon sum for himself. Mr. John Davidson, who was by this time, a regent in the University of St. Andrews, had composed a poetical dialogue, which he called "A Conference betwixt the Clerk and the Courtier," in which he exposes, in terms more plain than pleasant, the mischievous and disreputable character of the Regent Morton and his practice of prelacy - the governing of the Christian Church by appointees of high social rank and power.
Morton was highly incensed at this 'jeu d'esprit', and threatened the author with prosecution. Shortly after this revelation, Johne was compelled to seek refuge in England, and would returned to his native land only on the demise of the Regent Morton. Upon his return to Scotland, Johne Davidson had became the parish minister of Liberton, and was appointed by the Presbytery of Edinburgh to excommunicate a minister named Montgomery. Montgomery was the parish minister at Stirling. An attempt, was made by those in power, to thrust an Episcopacy upon an unwilling Presbyterian church council. This particular effort was now being led by the Duke of Lennox - a personal favorite with a questionable relationship with a very young teenage King James. Lennox offered these positions to different ministers upon condition of them turning over to him the parish's revenues and providing for themselves, an enviable annual pension. The offer was finally accepted by Robert Montgomery, "A man," acknowledge by the Presbytery council, as a "vain, feeble, presumptuous, and more apt, by the blemishes of his character, to have alienated the people from an order (Presbyterians) already beloved, than to reconcile them to one (Episcopacy) which was the object of their hatred." Montgomery was the minister in Stirling, who originally publicly opposed episcopal government of the church but then, in 1581, was persuaded by the Duke of Lennox to accept the vacant archbishopric of Glasgow. The General Assembly of the Church of Scotland and the University's Principal, the Rector, and the Dean of Faculty all opposed his appointment, which was clearly intended to allow the Duke to gain access to the revenues of the See. When Montgomery came to Glasgow in March 1582 to preach at the Cathedral, students and other supporters of Presbyterianism attempted to bar him from the building. There were violent clashes between the supporters of the Duke led by the Provost and Glasgow councillors, and many students were injured. The 1580s witnessed a fierce power struggle between King James VI and his supporters on one hand, and the Church and its disaffected nobles led by Johne Davidson on the other. During this struggle, Montgomery was excommunicated by the Church but almost immediately, their decision was declared null and void by Lennox and the KIng's Privy Council. Thus began an ongoing feud, that took seed between King James VI and Johne Davidson that would last for another two decades.