A European debate

In September 1561, a major debate took place in Poissy, France between the Protestant Théodore de Bèze, whom many reformers had met when they were exiled in Geneva, and the Catholic Cardinal Lorraine, the uncle of Mary Queen of Scots. This debate is now called the Colloquy of Poissy: it was the last major debate between the Protestant and Catholic sides during the Reformation, and for at least some of the participants represented an opportunity to try to reconcile the two. For others, it was an opportunity to drive home their own case, and the Colloquy ended without any reconciliation.

Naturally, with the strong personal connections on top of the general religious ones, Scots on both sides followed the debates with interest. The text of these debates was recorded and circulated throughout Europe. Within a month of the debate, the English Ambassador to Scotland, Sir Thomas Randolph, was sent a copy of a book containing one of de Bèze’s speeches translated into English. He circulated it at court, and arranged for it to be printed by Robert Lekpreuik, who was fast becoming the Protestants’ printer of choice.

John Baron, an Edinburgh Protestant who had been one of the Geneva exiles and now was back in town, was ‘driven … with a more fervent desire’ to translate another speech by de Bèze into Scots so that his countrymen could read it. This book was also published by Robert Lekpreuik, in 1562, and this book is on display in our exhibition.

When Randolph brought de Bèze’s speech to court, Mary Queen of Scots asked him about her uncle’s part in the debate: would this be printed too? Randolph replied diplomatically – but in fact the Catholic side of the debate was never printed in Scotland. Among the court elite, diplomats could communicate the latest news about religious debates, so that the Queen and her courtiers could hear both speeches. Printing could ensure that this news reached the widest possible audience – but if only one side of the story was printed, only that side was heard by a wider audience. Continue reading A European debate