Enforcing uniformity: Kirk sessions and catholics in early modern Scotland, 1560–1650

Ryan Christopher Burns*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


In the decades following the Scottish Reformation, Scottish parliaments passed a series of penal laws against Catholics and expressions of Catholic religious practice. In an act of 1594 the death penalty was prescribed on the first offence for wilfully hearing Mass; but no Scot was ever executed for hearing Mass. The same law of 1594 encouraged local presbyteries to convert any suspected Catholic under their jurisdiction. As historians of the Scottish Reformation begin to appreciate the crucial role that kirk sessions played in suppressing Scottish Catholicism, this article adds to recent studies which seek to offer a corrective to much previous scholarship on the persecution of Scottish Catholics – which tended to focus almost exclusively on civil enforcement – and explores the impact of parish church courts on Scottish Catholicism, highlighting the effectiveness of public penance, shaming, and psychological pressure as the most useful tools for enforcing uniformity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)111-130
Number of pages20
JournalInnes Review
Issue number2
StatePublished - Nov 1 2018


  • Conversion
  • Kirk sessions
  • Parish church courts
  • Protestant confession of faith
  • Public penance
  • Scottish Reformation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • History
  • Religious studies
  • Cultural Studies

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