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Henry Balnaves - Theologian

Judge, statesman and theologian, Henry Balnaves was one of the most influential men in 16th century Scotland, helping to bring about the Reformation and playing a central role in affairs of state both at home and abroad. Born in Kirkcaldy of apparently humble origins in 1502 or 1512 (sources vary), he somehow made his way to Cologne in Germany, where he had heard that poor children were educated at the expense of the

On his return to Kirkcaldy, complete with education, he attended the University of St Andrews. By 1537, he had been admitted as an advocate in the recently established Scottish Court of Session and, in 1538 became a judge. He became an advisor to King James V and on his death in 1542 he was part of the growing Protestant faction which helped secure the Earl of Arran as regent for the infant Queen Mary. Arran repaid this by appointing Balnaves as Secretary of State.

During this time Balnaves promoted an act permitting the reading of the Scriptures in English (the Bible was previously inaccessible to common people, being translated only into Latin), and was sent to England as part of a delegation to negotiate a marriage between Queen Mary, and Henry Vlll's son Edward, Prince of Wales. However these were turbulent times and the Earl of Arran had meanwhile changed his allegiance
and was now supporting the Catholic cause. Balnaves was removed from office and imprisoned, languishing in Blackness Castle until freed when a fleet sent by Henry VIII appeared in the Firth of Forth.

Events took another twist in 1546 when the Catholic Cardinal Beaton was assassinated in the castle of St Andrews by a conspiracy of Protestant supporters. Balnaves was not one of the assassins, but he, and John Knox, whose coat was also on a shaky nail with the Catholic dominated authorities, joined the conspirators in the castle, where they held out with English support for a year until a French fleet besieged the castle and forced its surrender.

During the year in St Andrews, Balnaves had been one of those to persuade Knox to become a preacher and, though they were separated by imprisonment, he was to continue to be an influence. While confined in the Castle of Rouen Balnaves composed 'A Treatise on Justifies' which has since come to be regardad as the standard theological treatise on the Scottish Reformation.

This manuscript was somehow smuggled to Knox, who said the work was of great comfort and inspiration to him and undertook to prepare it for publication, although in the event this did not take place until after Balnaves' death. While in captivity, Balnaves was charged with treason and his estate forfeited, though by 1556, the charge was rescinded and he returned to Scotland, regaining his estate and  being restored as a Lord of Session by 1563.

He took part in further negotiations with England when Elizabeth I came to the throne and helped gain her support for the Reformation. In 1567 Balnaves was one of the judges in the trial of Lord Bothwell, third husband of Mary, Queen of Scots, for the murder of Lord Darnley (her second), and in 1568, he accompanied the regent Murray to England, attending the inquiry into the guilt of Mary, Queen of Scots, who by this time had for many years been a prisoner in England and who had been accused of complicity in a plan to overthrow Elizabeth. Mary was eventually found guilty and beheaded in 1587, though Balnaves himself died in 1579.

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