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  • The Politics of Religion in the Age of Mary, Queen of Scots, The Earl of Argyll and the Struggle for Britain and Ireland
  • Michael Lynch
The Politics of Religion in the Age of Mary, Queen of Scots, The Earl of Argyll and the Struggle for Britain and Ireland. By Jane E. A. Dawson [Cambridge Studies in Early Modern British History.] (New York: Cambridge University Press. 2002. Pp. xvii, 251.)

This is a study of the operation of politics in the age of the Reformation in three parallel but very different worlds: the regional heartland of Archibald Campbell, fifth earl of Argyll (1538-1573) in the Highlands of Scotland, and especially in southern Argyll; on the national stage where, the author claims, the [End Page 553] earl was of equal standing with James Stewart, earl of Moray, and William Maitland of Lethington, as an architect of the coup organized by the Lords of the Congregation in 1559-60, which culminated in the Reformation parliament of 1560, which dispensed with papal authority, banned the Mass, and adopted a reformed Confession of Faith composed by John Knox; and as a key ally of William Cecil, secretary of Queen Elizabeth of England, in devising a pan-British Protestant strategy, which embraced a conquest of Ireland as well as the successful pushing through of a Reformation in Scotland and the formation of an "amity" between the two newly Protestant kingdoms.

The argument is at its most persuasive in the first and third of these theaters. Argyll, it is shown, was raised as a Protestant, and the most influential figure in his upbringing was the Catholic priest turned Protestant tutor, John Carswell, who entered his father's service in 1549 and would later be the fifth earl's key ally in the conversion of the Campbells' widespread territories, as superintendent and later bishop of Argyll and translator into Gaelic in 1568 of the Book of Common Order. On the British stage, the earl was a key ally for Cecil, since he was able to offer England his considerable military resources, which stretched across the North Channel into the north of Ireland. This, Dawson argues, was a key element in the Treaty of Berwick, concluded between England and the Congregation in February, 1560. She is also able convincingly to demonstrate how this alliance fell apart amidst the reconfiguration of both Scottish and British politics following the return to Scotland of Mary, Queen of Scots in 1561 and her marriage to Lord Darnley in 1565. By late 1566, Argyll was disabused of the goal of a Protestant Britain and had staged a strategic retreat into the political world of Gaelic politics. Less persuasive, however, is the thesis of the longer-term impact of this shift, which is claimed to have had a role in the premature demise of Ireland's Reformation and to have severely hampered the longer-term English conquest of Ireland.

In the Scotland of Mary, Queen of Scots, Argyll's part in the triumvirate was, it is argued, that of devising overall strategy alongside Maitland, while Moray took charge of day-to-day affairs. This is one way of explaining the earl's frequent absences from court, overseeing his Gaelic empire in the west, a fact which would otherwise cast doubt on a central role for him in the politics of Mary's personal reign. Argyll's close connections with the noble house of Hamilton and its head, James, second earl of Arran and duke of Châtelherault, are well drawn and help explain Argyll's drift into the ranks of the Queen's Party, which supported Mary in the civil war of 1568-1573, which followed her deposition. Otherwise, this is the least original part of the book, and Gordon Donaldson's All the Queen's Men: Power and Politics in Mary Stewart's Scotland (London, 1983) remains a more rounded explanation of how sovereignty and family were usually more significant than religion in determining allegiance in this period.

This is an important book, but its impact will be somewhat diminished by the fact that it has been anticipated by so many articles or other pieces—nine are [End Page 554] listed...


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