Jenny Geddes’ Stool

One of my favorite (and one of the funniest) stories in the history of Scottish Presbyterianism is that of Jenny Geddes. When King Charles I took the throne, and with his Archbishop of Canterbury, the rogue William Laud, sought to remove the Reformed influence from the Church of England, they also thought it best to introduce an episcopal prayer book for (what was at that time) the nominally episcopal Church of Scotland. Upon its first reading in St. Giles’ Cathedral in Edinburgh (which had been the church of John Knox in a previous generation), a market-trader named Jenny Geddes stood up and tossed her stool at the priest’s head. A riot ensued which eventually led to what was called “The Bishop’s War” in which Charles I tried to suppress the Scots. The Scottish Covenanters (those who had signed the National Covenant in 1638) defeated both Royalist forces and the English army, episcopacy was expelled from Scotland, and the Church of Scotland became purely Presbyterian. Of course, there’s much more to the story than this, but it’s an interesting take that, seemingly, Presbyterianism in Scotland grew to prominence after a long decay through one woman who was fed up with royal and episcopal interference in the Kirk.

King Charlie’s dog did bark his bark

From the dais of St. Giles’ kirk.

Brave Jenny could not keep her seat,

But rose indignant to her feet

And at his head she tossed her stool,

Hard at episcopacy’s fool:

“The de’il wi’ colic fill your bowels!

No mass book’s consonants or vowels

Will uttered be in Scottish ears!”

Then others shook the kirk with cheers.

To those who lead, be still and learn,

Or else ye too will have your turn;

Your sycophants may kiss your ring,

But in the Kirk, the Christ is King!


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