Patrick Hamilton was born in about 1504. His father, Sir Patrick Hamilton, was a night of the realm. Patrick’s grandfather on his mother’s side was Alexander, duke of Albany, second son of James II of Scotland. Royal blood flowed in his veins from both sides of the family. The environment of his upbringing provided him with the greatest of education, refinement and cultivation. From his youth he was marked out for labour in the church. At the age of 14 went to France for further Schooling at the college of Montaigu in Paris. It was at this very time that Luther was beginning to stir in Germany.. But this short period of open study sowed the seeds of scriptural truth within Hamilton’s heart. It was just after this time in the years 1521-22 that Luther, while in hiding, translated the Bible into the German language.
After receiving his master’s degree in 1520 in Paris, Hamilton went to the University of Louvain in Holland which was the leading school of Europe where Latin, Greek and Hebrew were taught. It was here that he sat as a student under Erasmus who was one of the most brilliant thinkers of the age as well as a scholar of tremendous ability. He had published his new translation of the Greek New Testament in 1516 with other editions following over the next several years which were eagerly used in the college in Paris and Louvain.
Upon his return to his homeland after his six years of study abroad, Hamilton joined St. Mary’s College at St. Andrews on the 9th June 1523 as a graduate student and teacher. St. Andrews was the ecclesiastical capital of Scotland and its university was the oldest and largest in the land. The Church of Scotland in those days was immoral, corrupt, blood-stained
At the end of 1524 Luther’s writings created something of a stir upon reaching Scottish shores by smugglers. The Bible and its translation was banned in Scottland.
The year 1526 was to be a glorious year. Patrick Hamilton began to give vent to the fire that had been stored up in his bones over recent years. It was time to preach aloud those truths that he had come to learn and experience in such a real and deep way. The Gospel of Jesus Christ was the only hope for darkened Scotland and he must preach justification by faith through the precious Blood of Jesus Christ. By setting forth God’s Word he exposed the hypocrisy, sin, falsehood and barrenness of the Church of Scotland. One of his greatest and most marked characteristics which undergirded his contending from the very beginning was his courteous manner to friend and foe alike. By early 1527 he came under the scrutinizing attention of Archbishop James Beaton who gave space in allowing Hamilton to continue preaching only in order to gather evidence for his condemnation. Hamilton took full liberty during this short period to fuel the fires of truth in the hearts of many by bold clear scriptural preaching.
By 1527 it was clear that Beaton intended to see him dead, so in April of that year Hamilton fled to Germany with two faithful companions and a servant. He sat under the great reformation preachers Martin Luther and Philip Melanchthon. There in Wittenberg and the surrounding region he looked upon a town stripped of superstition and tradition as well as large church congregations fervently singing aloud the truth of God. He listened to Luther’s fiery and compelling expositions and he sat amongst zealous students who had come from across Europe to hear God’s Word. Luther’s translation of the New Testament was read and carried by most along the streets.
Although his two friends begged him to remain in the safety of Germany with them, he was compelled to go forth and preach the gospel of free grace to his own countrymen. After six months in Germany and accompanied with his servant he returned to the family home at Kincavel. His first fruits of genuine converts were among his own family circle beginning with his own widowed mother and followed by his brother and sister. As a result of his initial preaching in the area, monks at Kelso were stirred to anger and distress. He was a compelling evangelist who turned many from dead religion and tradition to the person of Jesus Christ. He knew his time was short so he gave himself to this one task of preaching in ever widening circles. “A Lutheran missionary, with royal blood in his veins, and all the power of the Hamilton’s at his back, was a more formidable heretic in Scotland than Luther himself would have been.”
So alarming was the influence of the gospel in the nation that year that an act of parliament was added stating that the same punishment would be given to Scotch Lutherans as to foreign Lutherans. This preaching of justification by faith was no longer a foreign heresy but was held tenaciously by Scots men and women.
Archbishop Beaton called for Hamilton to attend discussions in St. Andrews on the state and condition of the Church in Scotland. A trap was being weaved. Because of Hamilton’s prestigious family background Beaton had to walk very carefully and cleverly in all his actions of drawing this young firebrand to his death. His first task was to get him to St. Andrews where Beaton had his stronghold of support. Before leaving home to go meet with Beaton’s council, Hamilton predicted to his relatives that he would not live long. He knew the end was near. Amidst pleadings strong pleadings from them he insisted that he must go.
Upon his arrival in mid January 1528 at St. Andrews he was housed in the castle in comfort. Over the next weeks he was involved in several private conferences with Beaton and his prelates in which they drew him out in gathering evidence for his own condemnation but all the time seeming to admit much truth in what he said of the need for reform in the church. Hamilton also used the time well to preach openly and freely in the university and wherever he pleased both publicly and privately. It was his great joy to proclaim the pure gospel of Christ in the very heart of ecclesiastical Scotland without restraint. When his friends pleaded for him to flee he confessed his willingness and determinations to remain and die for the truth’s sake as a martyr of Jesus Christ.
Trial & Death
His teachings were studied and tested by a private council of theologians who condemned him as a heretic. He was arrested by an armed band and taken to the castle. The charges, accusations and condemnations were read to Hamilton by an appointed Friar seven of which were taken from his writings. Hamilton soon confounded the Friar in a calm manner holding forth the written Scripture upon every point as his only confession and profession. As the crowd laughed the poor Friar eventually turned to the high churchmen for help.
A number of these churchmen were immoral men who had fathered a number of children outside of wedlock. Such was the corruption of this case against an innocent righteous godly man. It was this gross corruption by church leaders that brought scandal across the land concerning its so-called church. While such men went into harlots at night they persecuted those who read God’s Word during the day.
He was then condemned and led away by a very large guard to the castle prison under order to be confined there until the performance of his punishment. Immediately after the trial a stake was prepared for his burning outside the front gate of St. Salvator’s College. At noon he was marched to the place of burning carrying only a copy of the four gospels in his right hand. Upon reaching the spot he lifted his eyes to heaven and made silent prayer.
In the speed of things he had not been removed from the orders of the priesthood as was normal. When offered his life and called upon to recant by the archbishops men he was able to answer clearly with true conviction,
“After being bound to the stake by an iron chain he began to pray fervently that God would grant mercy to those who persecuted him, for those deceived and blind in the crowd, and for himself that he might be found faithful to die a martyr’s death. The executioner lit some gun powder which hung around his neck, which once ignited scorched him but nothing else.
With three men attempting to stir the fire and others going to fetch more material from the castle the work was slow. The wind and light rain helped little with the task of martyrdom. With the fire burning low the pain was great and the death long and lingering. During this short time as he paid the ultimate sacrifice, he preached, prayed, exhorted and rebuked while friars and monks reviled him and called upon him to recant and worship Mary.
His last words were, “How long. Lord, shall darkness overwhelm this kingdom? How long wilt Thou suffer this tyranny of men? Lord Jesus, receive my spirit!”
The execution lasted for six hours until his body was reduced to ashes. This firebrand twenty-four year old paid the greatest price and showed the greatest love in order that a corrupt church could be reformed, purged and revived out of the ashes of sin, superstition, tradition and decadence.
One eye witness said during the whole time of suffering “the martyr never gave one sign of impatience or anger, nor ever called to heaven for vengeance on his persecutors. So great was his faith, so strong his confidence in God!” It was said at that time that “the smoke of Patrick Hamilton infected all it blew on.” Pinkerton said that, “the flames in which he expired were in the course of one generation to enlighten all Scotland, and to consume with avenging fury the Catholic superstition, the papal power, and the prelacy itself.”