On this leap day in the year 1528 Patrick Hamilton, the first Protestant reformer of Scotland, was martyred. A proponent of Lutheran thought, Hamilton’s bold preaching and the events surrounding his martyrdom sparked the wildfire commonly referred to as the Scottish Reformation.
Hamilton was born in 1504 the second son of Sir Patrick Hamilton and Catherine Stewart in the village of Stonehouse in South Lanarkshire, Scotland. He likely spent his early years studying at the royal burgh of Linlithgow before, at age twelve, being appointed titular (that is, in formality, not practice) Abbot of Fearn Abbey, Ross-shire. The young abbot used the income he collected from his position to pay for his study at the University of Paris, where he graduated as a Master of the Arts in 1520. It was during his time at the University of Paris where Hamilton was first introduced to the writings of Martin Luther, the much discussed and debated theologian of the time–writings he would later defend to the death.
Upon returning to his native Scotland, Hamilton took up residence in the university town of Saint Andrews. He enrolled as a student at Saint Leonard’s College, a subset of the University of Saint Andrews, and eventually worked himself up to a faculty position in October of 1524. By this time, Hamilton was set ablaze by the revolutionary, new thoughts of Martin Luther that he had been studying. Hamilton eagerly began to share his studies with his Scottish countrymen. This quickly caught the eye of of Saint Andrews’ archbishop James Beaton. After hearing enough of Hamilton’s heresy, Beaton ordered that Hamilton be formally tried. Upon hearing this, Hamilton fled to Germany. However, his conviction on the theological issues at hand led him back to Scotland in the Autumn of 1527.
Thirteen charges of heresy were brought against Master Hamilton. Thirteen charges Master Hamilton upheld as true. He was thus condemned as a heretic and set to be burned at the stake, alone in the fight for reform in Scotland. His martyrdom took place outside the front entrance of Saint Salvator’s Chapel in Saint Andrews, 484 years ago today. Hamilton was twenty-four years old.
There now stands a monogram with his initials at the spot where he is held to have been executed. The superstitious student of Saint Andrews is careful to never walk atop these stones for fear of failing their degree program. If a student should walk upon this sacred spot there is in fact a rumored remedy for the curse. All traces of failing tendencies are washed away if the cursed student runs into the North Sea at dawn on May Day to the melody of madrigals sung by the University Madrigal Group. This charming annual event is known as the May Dip.