What do a jail break, a heart, a history book and a revolution have in common? Take five minutes to find out more about the significance of the role of Alexander Shields towards the end of Scotland’s Forgotten History.
To dig deeper, visit https//www.scotlandsforgottenhistory.com
Podcasts are usually studio-based discussions or broadcasts but, in this series, we want to go on location in the way that we did with our free online video series also called Scotland’s Forgotten History. If you haven’t seen the videos, head on over to www.scotlandsforgottenhistory.com and enjoy.
Well today, I’m in Parliament Square, Edinburgh outside St Giles on the Royal Mile. If you’re looking carefully at the pavement just next to the high street you can see a motif amongst the cobbles. It’s in the shape of a heart. In fact it’s called the heart of Midlothian. This marks the spot of a building called the Tolbooth. This was a prison whose inside walls enclosed many of those connected with Scotland’s Forgotten History.
In 1686, the preacher Alexander Shields languished here after spending time on the Bass Rock. After 14 months in the Tolbooth an escape plan was effected. In October 1686 Shields walked out of its doors disguised in women’s clothes. The government were enraged and they described Shields as ‘a person of most dangerous principles, a trumpet of sedition and rebellion’, and ‘a rebellious field preacher debauched unto ill principles and practices.’
After months of field preaching, Shields secretly traveled to Holland. The purpose was to publish a book that he had (in part) been able to write during his captivity. The book is called ‘A Hind Let Loose’. The subtitle shows that it is in part a history book. It is ‘A Historical Representation of the Testimonies of the Church of Scotland, for Christ in all its Periods’. Shields covers 7 periods of history from the early Celtic Church through the Middle ages and Reformation to the period that we call Scotland’s Forgotten History. It is interesting because he writes at the end of the period and is able to survey the way in which events have developed. He wants to show that the principles for which they were now suffering were only a development of the same principles that had been at stake in former ages. Things that “are now condemned, as new… notions, have been transmitted from age to age, from the beginning even to this present time, through all the Periods of this Church”.
Shields was saying that Scotland had forgotten its history and the reasons why the Church had suffered and faced conflict in the past. By forgetting these principles it forfeited the practical lessons to be learned from the history. On several occasions Shields refers to the sufferings or sufferers of this time as “never to be forgotten”. And yet we have largely forgotten the principles for which they suffered. In many cases we have also forgotten the sufferings and sufferers.
It is a powerful book by any account. So powerful that the copies imported into Scotland were destroyed by the government. But William of Orange was to see a copy in Holland and it influenced him to want to put an end to the persecution within the space of 12 months. For now I’ll leave you with a quote from Shields that challenges us to make use of what we learn from the history we have considered.
“We are much obliged to our worthy ancestors: and shall none be the better of us? If we have no precedent or example, let us be good ones to them who come after us”.