John Knox and the Reformation
by Andrew Lang
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Transcribed from the 1905 Longmans, Green and Co. edition by David Price, email

John Knox and the Reformation

[John Knox. From a Posthumous Portrait. Beza's Icones, 1850: knox1.jpg]

To Maurice Hewlett


In this brief Life of Knox I have tried, as much as I may, to get behind Tradition, which has so deeply affected even modern histories of the Scottish Reformation, and even recent Biographies of the Reformer. The tradition is based, to a great extent, on Knox's own "History," which I am therefore obliged to criticise as carefully as I can. In his valuable John Knox, a Biography, Professor Hume Brown says that in the "History" "we have convincing proof alike of the writer's good faith, and of his perception of the conditions of historic truth." My reasons for dissenting from this favourable view will be found in the following pages. If I am right, if Knox, both as a politician and an historian, resembled Charles I. in "sailing as near the wind" as he could, the circumstance (as another of his biographers remarks) "only makes him more human and interesting."

Opinion about Knox and the religious Revolution in which he took so great a part, has passed through several variations in the last century. In the Edinburgh Review of 1816 (No. liii. pp. 163-180), is an article with which the present biographer can agree. Several passages from Knox's works are cited, and the reader is expected to be "shocked at their principles." They are certainly shocking, but they are not, as a rule, set before the public by biographers of the Reformer.

Mr. Carlyle introduced a style of thinking about Knox which may be called platonically Puritan. Sweet enthusiasts glide swiftly over all in the Reformer that is specially distasteful to us. I find myself more in harmony with the outspoken Hallam, Dr. Joseph Robertson, David Hume, and the Edinburgh reviewer of 1816, than with several more recent students of Knox.

"The Reformer's violent counsels and intemperate speech were remarkable," writes Dr. Robertson, "even in his own ruthless age," and he gives fourteen examples. {0a} "Lord Hailes has shown," he adds, "how little Knox's statements" (in his "History") "are to be relied on even in matters which were within the Reformer's own knowledge." In Scotland there has always been the party of Cavalier and White Rose sentimentalism. To this party Queen Mary is a saintly being, and their admiration of Claverhouse goes far beyond that entertained by Sir Walter Scott. On the other side, there is the party, equally sentimental, which musters under the banner of the Covenant, and sees scarcely a blemish in Knox. A pretty sample of the sentiment of this party appears in a biography (1905) of the Reformer by a minister of the Gospel. Knox summoned the organised brethren, in 1563, to overawe justice, when some men were to be tried on a charge of invading in arms the chapel of Holyrood. No proceeding could be more anarchic than Knox's, or more in accordance with the lovable customs of my dear country, at that time. But the biographer of 1905, "a placed minister," writes that "the doing of it" (Knox's summons) "was only an assertion of the liberty of the Church, and of the members of the Commonwealth as a whole, to assemble for purposes which were clearly lawful"—the purposes being to overawe justice in the course of a trial!

On sentiment, Cavalier or Puritan, reason is thrown away.

I have been surprised to find how completely a study of Knox's own works corroborates the views of Dr. Robertson and Lord Hailes. That Knox ran so very far ahead of the Genevan pontiffs of his age in violence; and that in his "History" he needs such careful watching, was, to me, an unexpected discovery. He may have been "an old Hebrew prophet," as Mr. Carlyle says, but he had also been a young Scottish notary! A Hebrew prophet is, at best, a dangerous anachronism in a delicate crisis of the Church Christian; and the notarial element is too conspicuous in some passages of Knox's "History."

That Knox was a great man; a disinterested man; in his regard for the poor a truly Christian man; as a shepherd of Calvinistic souls a man fervent and considerate; of pure life; in friendship loyal; by jealousy untainted; in private character genial and amiable, I am entirely convinced. In public and political life he was much less admirable; and his "History," vivacious as it is, must be studied as the work of an old- fashioned advocate rather than as the summing up of a judge. His favourite adjectives are "bloody," "beastly," "rotten," and "stinking."

Any inaccuracies of my own which may have escaped my correction will be dwelt on, by enthusiasts for the Prophet, as if they are the main elements of this book, and disqualify me as a critic of Knox's "History." At least any such errors on my part are involuntary and unconscious. In Knox's defence we must remember that he never saw his "History" in print. But he kept it by him for many years, obviously re-reading, for he certainly retouched it, as late as 1571.

In quoting Knox and his contemporaries, I have used modern spelling: the letter from the State Papers printed on pp. 146, 147, shows what the orthography of the period was really like. Consultation of the original MSS. on doubtful points, proves that the printed Calendars, though excellent guides, cannot be relied on as authorities.

The portrait of Knox, from Beza's book of portraits of Reformers, is posthumous, but is probably a good likeness drawn from memory, after a description by Peter Young, who knew him, and a design, presumably by "Adrianc Vaensoun," a Fleming, resident in Edinburgh. {0b}

There is an interesting portrait, possibly of Knox, in the National Gallery of Portraits, but the work has no known authentic history.

The portrait of Queen Mary, at the age of thirty-six, and a prisoner, is from the Earl of Morton's original; it is greatly superior to the "Sheffield" type of likenesses, of about 1578; and, with Janet's and other drawings (1558-1561), the Bridal medal of 1558, and (in my opinion) the Earl of Leven and Melville's portrait, of about 1560-1565, is the best extant representation of the Queen.

The Leven and Melville portrait of Mary, young and charming, and wearing jewels which are found recorded in her Inventories, has hitherto been overlooked. An admirable photogravure is given in Mr. J. J. Foster's "True Portraiture of Mary, Queen of Scots" (1905), and I understand that a photograph was done in 1866 for the South Kensington Museum.


8 Gibson Place, St. Andrews.


"November 24, 1572.

"John Knox, minister, deceased, who had, as was alleged, the most part of the blame of all the sorrows of Scotland since the slaughter of the late Cardinal."

It is thus that the decent burgess who, in 1572, kept The Diurnal of such daily events as he deemed important, cautiously records the death of the great Scottish Reformer. The sorrows, the "cumber" of which Knox was "alleged" to bear the blame, did not end with his death. They persisted in the conspiracies and rebellions of the earlier years of James VI.; they smouldered through the later part of his time; they broke into far spreading flame at the touch of the Covenant; they blazed at "dark Worcester and bloody Dunbar"; at Preston fight, and the sack of Dundee by Monk; they included the Cromwellian conquest of Scotland, and the shame and misery of the Restoration; to trace them down to our own age would be invidious.

It is with the "alleged" author of the Sorrows, with his life, works, and ideas that we are concerned.

John Knox, son of William Knox and of —- Sinclair, his wife, {2a} unlike most Scotsmen, unlike even Mr. Carlyle, had not "an ell of pedigree." The common scoff was that each Scot styled himself "the King's poor cousin." But John Knox declared, "I am a man of base estate and condition." {2b} The genealogy of Mr. Carlyle has been traced to a date behind the Norman Conquest, but of Knox's ancestors nothing is known. He himself, in 1562, when he "ruled the roast" in Scotland, told the ruffian Earl of Bothwell, "my grandfather, my maternal grandfather, and my father, have served your Lordship's predecessors, and some of them have died under their standards; and this" (namely goodwill to the house of the feudal superior) "is a part of the obligation of our Scottish kindness." Knox, indeed, never writes very harshly of Bothwell, partly for the reason he gives; partly, perhaps, because Bothwell, though an infamous character, and a political opponent, was not in 1562-67 "an idolater," that is, a Catholic: if ever he had been one; partly because his "History" ends before Bothwell's murder of Darnley in 1567.

Knox's ancestors were, we may suppose, peasant farmers, like the ancestors of Burns and Hogg; and Knox, though he married a maid of the Queen's kin, bore traces of his descent. "A man ungrateful and unpleasable," Northumberland styled him: he was one who could not "smiling, put a question by"; if he had to remonstrate even with a person whom it was desirable to conciliate, he stated his case in the plainest and least flattering terms. "Of nature I am churlish, and in conditions different from many," he wrote; but this side of his character he kept mainly for people of high rank, accustomed to deference, and indifferent or hostile to his aims. To others, especially to women whom he liked, he was considerate and courteous, but any assertion of social superiority aroused his wakeful independence. His countrymen of his own order had long displayed these peculiarities of humour.

The small Scottish cultivators from whose ranks Knox rose, appear, even before his age, in two strangely different lights. If they were not technically "kindly tenants," in which case their conditions of existence and of tenure were comparatively comfortable and secure, they were liable to eviction at the will of the lord, and, to quote an account of their condition written in 1549, "were in more servitude than the children of Israel in Egypt." Henderson, the writer of 1549 whom we have quoted, hopes that the agricultural class may yet live "as substantial commoners, not miserable cottars, charged daily to war and slay their neighbours at their own expense," as under the standards of the unruly Bothwell House. This Henderson was one of the political observers who, before the Scottish Reformation, hoped for a secure union between Scotland and England, in place of the old and romantic league with France. That alliance had, indeed, enabled both France and Scotland to maintain their national independence. But, with the great revolution in religion, the interest of Scotland was a permanent political league with England, which Knox did as much as any man to forward, while, by resisting a religious union, he left the seeds of many sorrows.

If the Lowland peasantry, from one point of view, were terribly oppressed, we know that they were of independent manners. In 1515 the chaplain of Margaret Tudor, the Queen Mother, writes to one Adam Williamson: "You know the use of this country. Every man speaks what he will without blame. The man hath more words than the master, and will not be content unless he knows the master's counsel. There is no order among us."

Thus, two hundred and fifty years before Burns, the Lowland Scot was minded that "A man's a man for a' that!" Knox was the true flower of this vigorous Lowland thistle. Throughout life he not only "spoke what he would," but uttered "the Truth" in such a tone as to make it unlikely that his "message" should be accepted by opponents. Like Carlyle, however, he had a heart rich in affection, no breach in friendship, he says, ever began on his side; while, as "a good hater," Dr. Johnson might have admired him. He carried into political and theological conflicts the stubborn temper of the Border prickers, his fathers, who had ridden under the Roses and the Lion of the Hepburns. So far Knox was an example of the doctrine of heredity; that we know, however little we learn in detail about his ancestors.

The birthplace of Knox was probably a house in a suburb of Haddington, in a district on the path of English invasion. The year of his birth has long been dated, on a late statement of little authority, as 1505. {4} Seven years after his death, however, a man who knew him well, namely, Peter Young, tutor and librarian of James VI., told Beza that Knox died in his fifty-ninth year. Dr. Hay Fleming has pointed out that his natal year was probably 1513-15, not 1505, and this reckoning, we shall see, appears to fit in better with the deeds of the Reformer.

If Knox was born in 1513-15, he must have taken priest's orders, and adopted the profession of a notary, at nearly the earliest moment which the canonical law permitted. No man ought to be in priest's orders before he was twenty-five; Knox, if born in 1515, was just twenty-five in 1540, when he is styled "Sir John Knox" (one of "The Pope's Knights") in legal documents, and appears as a notary. {5} He certainly continued in orders and in the notarial profession as late as March 1543. The law of the Church did not, in fact, permit priests to be notaries, but in an age when "notaires" were often professional forgers, the additional security for character yielded by Holy Orders must have been welcome to clients, and Bishops permitted priests to practise this branch of the law.

Of Knox's near kin no more is known than of his ancestors. He had a brother, William, for whom, in 1552, he procured a licence to trade in England as owner of a ship of 100 tons. Even as late as 1656, there were not a dozen ships of this burden in Scotland, so William Knox must have been relatively a prosperous man. In 1544-45, there was a William Knox, a fowler or gamekeeper to the Earl of Westmoreland, who acted as a secret agent between the Scots in English pay and their paymasters. We much later (1559) find the Reformer's brother, William, engaged with him in a secret political mission to the Governor of Berwick; probably this William knew shy Border paths, and he may have learned them as the Lord Westmoreland's fowler in earlier years.

About John Knox's early years and education nothing is known. He certainly acquired such Latin (satis humilis, says a German critic) as Scotland then had to teach; probably at the Burgh School of Haddington. A certain John Knox matriculated at the University of Glasgow in 1522, but he cannot have been the Reformer, if the Reformer was not born till 1513- 15. Beza, on the other hand (1580), had learned, probably from the Reformer, whom he knew well, that Knox was a St. Andrews man, and though his name does not occur in the University Register, the Register was very ill kept. Supposing Knox, then, to have been born in 1513-15, and to have been educated at St. Andrews, we can see how he comes to know so much about the progress of the new religious ideas at that University, between 1529 and 1535. "The Well of St. Leonard's College" was a notorious fountain of heresies, under Gawain Logie, the Principal. Knox very probably heard the sermons of the Dominicans and Franciscans "against the pride and idle life of bishops," and other abuses. He speaks of a private conversation between Friar Airth and Major (about 1534), and names some of the persons present at a sermon in the parish church of St. Andrews, as if he had himself been in the congregation. He gives the text and heads of the discourse, including "merry tales" told by the Friar. {6} If Knox heard the sermons and stories of clerical scandals at St. Andrews, they did not prevent him from taking orders. His Greek and Hebrew, what there was of them, Knox must have acquired in later life, at least we never learn that he was taught by the famous George Wishart, who, about that time, gave Greek lectures at Montrose.

The Catholic opponents of Knox naturally told scandalous anecdotes concerning his youth. These are destitute of evidence: about his youth we know nothing. It is a characteristic trait in him, and a fact much to his credit, that, though he is fond of expatiating about himself, he never makes confessions as to his earlier adventures. On his own years of the wild oat St. Augustine dilates in a style which still has charm: but Knox, if he sowed wild oats, is silent as the tomb. If he has anything to repent, it is not to the world that he confesses. About the days when he was "one of Baal's shaven sort," in his own phrase; when he was himself an "idolater," and a priest of the altar: about the details of his conversion, Knox is mute. It is probable that, as a priest, he examined Lutheran books which were brought in with other merchandise from Holland; read the Bible for himself; and failed to find Purgatory, the Mass, the intercession of Saints, pardons, pilgrimages, and other accessories of mediaeval religion in the Scriptures. {7} Knox had only to keep his eyes and ears open, to observe the clerical ignorance and corruption which resulted in great part from the Scottish habit of securing wealthy Church offices for ignorant, brutal, and licentious younger sons and bastards of noble families. This practice in Scotland was as odious to good Catholics, like Quentin Kennedy, Ninian Winzet, and, rather earlier, to Ferrerius, as to Knox himself. The prevalent anarchy caused by the long minorities of the Stuart kings, and by the interminable wars with England, and the difficulty of communications with Rome, had enabled the nobles thus to rob and deprave the Church, and so to provide themselves with moral reasons good for robbing her again; as a punishment for the iniquities which they had themselves introduced!

The almost incredible ignorance and profligacy of the higher Scottish clergy (with notable exceptions) in Knox's youth, are not matter of controversy. They are as frankly recognised by contemporary Catholic as by Protestant authors. In the very year of the destruction of the monasteries (1559) the abuses are officially stated, as will be told later, by the last Scottish Provincial Council. Though three of the four Scottish universities were founded by Catholics, and the fourth, Edinburgh, had an endowment bequeathed by a Catholic, the clerical ignorance, in Knox's time, was such that many priests could hardly read.

If more evidence is needed as to the debauched estate of the Scottish clergy, we obtain it from Mary of Guise, widow of James V., the Regent then governing Scotland for her child, Mary Stuart. The Queen, in December 1555, begged Pius IV. to permit her to levy a tax on her clergy, and to listen to what Cardinal Sermoneta would tell him about their need of reformation. The Cardinal drew a terrible sketch of the nefarious lives of "every kind of religious women" in Scotland. They go about with their illegal families and dower their daughters out of the revenues of the Church. The monks, too, have bloated wealth, while churches are allowed to fall into decay. "The only hope is in the Holy Father," who should appoint an episcopal commission of visitation. For about forty years prelates have been alienating Church lands illegally, and churches and monasteries, by the avarice of those placed in charge, are crumbling to decay. Bishops are the chief dealers in cattle, fish, and hides, though we have, in fact, good evidence that their dealings were very limited, "sma' sums."

Not only the clergy, but the nobles and people were lawless. "They are more difficult to manage than ever," writes Mary of Guise (Jan. 13, 1557). They are recalcitrant against law and order; every attempt at introducing these is denounced as an attack on their old laws: not that their laws are bad, but that they are badly administered. {9} Scotland, in brief, had always been lawless, and for centuries had never been godly. She was untouched by the first fervour of the Franciscan and other religious revivals. Knox could not fail to see what was so patent: many books of the German reformers may have come in his way; no more was wanted than the preaching of George Wishart in 1543-45, to make him an irreconcilable foe of the doctrine as well as the discipline of his Church.

Knox had a sincerely religious nature, and a conviction that he was, more than most men, though a sinner, in close touch with Him "in whom we live and move and have our being." We ask ourselves, had Knox, as "a priest of the altar," never known the deep emotions, which tongue may not utter, that the ceremonies and services of his Church so naturally awaken in the soul of the believer? These emotions, if they were in his experience, he never remembered tenderly, he flung them from him without regret; not regarding them even as dreams, beautiful and dear, but misleading, that came through the Ivory Gate. To Knox's opponent in controversy, Quentin Kennedy, the mass was "the blessed Sacrament of the Altar . . . which is one of the chief Sacraments whereby our Saviour, for the salvation of mankind, has appointed the fruit of His death and passion to be daily renewed and applied." In this traditional view there is nothing unedifying, nothing injurious to the Christian life. But to Knox the wafer is an idol, a god "of water and meal," "but a feeble and miserable god," that can be destroyed "by a bold and puissant mouse." "Rats and mice will desire no better dinner than white round gods enough." {10}

The Reformer and the Catholic take up the question "by different handles"; and the Catholic grounds his defence on a text about Melchizedek! To Knox the mass is the symbol of all that he justly detested in the degraded Church as she then was in Scotland, "that horrible harlot with her filthiness." To Kennedy it was what we have seen.

Knox speaks of having been in "the puddle of papistry." He loathes what he has left behind him, and it is natural to guess that, in his first years of priesthood, his religious nature slept; that he became a priest and notary merely that he "might eat a morsel of bread"; and that real "conviction" never was his till his studies of Protestant controversialists, and also of St. Augustine and the Bible, and the teaching of Wishart, raised him from a mundane life. Then he awoke to a passionate horror and hatred of his old routine of "mumbled masses," of "rites of human invention," whereof he had never known the poetry and the mystic charm. Had he known them, he could not have so denied and detested them. On the other hand, when once he had embraced the new ideas, Knox's faith in them, or in his own form of them, was firm as the round world, made so fast that it cannot be moved. He had now a pou sto, whence he could, and did, move the world of human affairs. A faith not to be shaken, and enormous energy were the essential attributes of the Reformer. It is almost impossible to find an instance in which Knox allows that he may have been mistaken: d'avoir toujours raison was his claim. If he admits an error in details, it is usually an error of insufficient severity. He did not attack Northumberland or Mary Stuart with adequate violence; he did not disapprove enough of our prayer book; he did not hand a heretic over to the magistrates.

While acting as a priest and notary, between 1540, at latest, and 1543, Knox was engaged as private tutor to a boy named Brounefield, son of Brounefield of Greenlaw, and to other lads, spoken of as his "bairns." In this profession of tutor he continued till 1547.

Knox's personal aspect did not give signs of the uncommon strength which his unceasing labours demanded, but, like many men of energy, he had a perpetual youth of character and vigour. After his death, Peter Young described him as he appeared in his later years. He was somewhat below the "just" standard of height; his limbs were well and elegantly shaped; his shoulders broad, his fingers rather long, his head small, his hair black, his face somewhat swarthy, and not unpleasant to behold. There was a certain geniality in a countenance serious and stern, with a natural dignity and air of command; his eyebrows, when he was in anger, were expressive. His forehead was rather narrow, depressed above the eyebrows; his cheeks were full and ruddy, so that the eyes seemed to retreat into their hollows: they were dark grey, keen, and lively. The face was long, the nose also; the mouth was large, the upper lip being the thicker. The beard was long, rather thick and black, with a few grey hairs in his later years. {12} The nearest approach to an authentic portrait of Knox is a woodcut, engraved after a sketch from memory by Peter Young, and after another sketch of the same kind by an artist in Edinburgh. Compared with the peevish face of Calvin, also in Beza's Icones, Knox looks a broad-minded and genial character.

Despite the uncommon length to which Knox carried the contemporary approval of persecution, then almost universal, except among the Anabaptists (and any party out of power), he was not personally rancorous where religion was not concerned. But concerned it usually was! He was the subject of many anonymous pasquils and libels, we know, but he entirely disregarded them. If he hated any mortal personally, and beyond what true religion demands of a Christian, that mortal was the mother of Mary Stuart, an amiable lady in an impossible position. Of jealousy towards his brethren there is not a trace in Knox, and he told Queen Mary that he could ill bear to correct his own boys, though the age was as cruel to schoolboys as that of St. Augustine.

The faults of Knox arose not in his heart, but in his head; they sprung from intellectual errors, and from the belief that he was always right. He applied to his fellow-Christians—Catholics—the commands which early Israel supposed to be divinely directed against foreign worshippers of Chemosh and Moloch. He endeavoured to force his own theory of what the discipline of the Primitive Apostolic Church had been upon a modern nation, following the example of the little city state of Geneva, under Calvin. He claimed for preachers chosen by local congregations the privileges and powers of the apostolic companions of Christ, and in place of "sweet reasonableness," he applied the methods, quite alien to the Founder of Christianity, of the "Sons of Thunder." All controversialists then relied on isolated and inappropriate scriptural texts, and Biblical analogies which were not analogous; but Knox employed these things, with perhaps unusual inconsistency, in varying circumstances. His "History" is not more scrupulous than that of other partisans in an exciting contest, and examples of his taste for personal scandal are not scarce.


Our earliest knowledge of Knox, apart from mention of him in notarial documents, is derived from his own History of the Reformation. The portion of that work in which he first mentions himself was written about 1561-66, some twenty years after the events recorded, and in reading all this part of his Memoirs, and his account of the religious struggle, allowance must be made for errors of memory, or for erroneous information. We meet him first towards the end of "the holy days of Yule"—Christmas, 1545. Knox had then for some weeks been the constant companion and armed bodyguard of George Wishart, who was calling himself "the messenger of the Eternal God," and preaching the new ideas in Haddington to very small congregations. This Wishart, Knox's master in the faith, was a Forfarshire man; he is said to have taught Greek at Montrose, to have been driven thence in 1538 by the Bishop of Brechin, and to have recanted certain heresies in 1539. He had denied the merits of Christ as the Redeemer, but afterwards dropped that error, when persistence meant death at the stake. It was in Bristol that he "burned his faggot," in place of being burned himself. There was really nothing humiliating in this recantation, for, after his release, he did not resume his heresy; clearly he yielded, not to fear, but to conviction of theological error. {15a}

He next travelled in Germany, where a Jew, on a Rhine boat, inspired or increased his aversion to works of sacred art, as being "idolatrous." About 1542-43 he was reading with pupils at Cambridge, and was remarked for the severity of his ascetic virtue, and for his great charity. At some uncertain date he translated the Helvetic Confession of Faith, and he was more of a Calvinist than a Lutheran. In July 1543 he returned to Scotland; at least he returned with some "commissioners to England," who certainly came home in July 1543, as Knox mentions, though later he gives the date of Wishart's return in 1544, probably by a slip of the pen.

Coming home in July 1543, Wishart would expect a fair chance of preaching his novel ideas, as peace between Scotland and Protestant England now seemed secure, and Arran, the Scottish Regent, the chief of the almost Royal House of Hamilton, was, for the moment, himself a Protestant. For five days (August 28-September 3, 1543) the great Cardinal Beaton, the head of the party of the Church, was outlawed, and Wishart's preaching at Dundee, about that date, is supposed by some {15b} to have stimulated an attack then made on the monasteries in the town. But Arran suddenly recanted, deserted the Protestants and the faction attached to England, and joined forces with Cardinal Beaton, who, in November 1543, visited Dundee, and imprisoned the ringleaders in the riots. They are called "the honestest men in the town," by the treble traitor and rascal, Crichton, laird of Brunston in Lothian, at this time a secret agent of Sadleir, the envoy of Henry VIII. (November 25, 1543).

By April 1544, Henry was preparing to invade Scotland, and the "earnest professors" of Protestant doctrines in Scotland sent to him "a Scottish man called Wysshert," with a proposal for the kidnapping or murder of Cardinal Beaton. Brunston and other Scottish lairds of Wishart's circle were agents of the plot, and in 1545-46 our George Wishart is found companioning with them. When Cassilis took up the threads of the plot against Beaton, it was to Cassilis's country in Ayrshire that Wishart went and there preached. Thence he returned to Dundee, to fight the plague and comfort the citizens, and, towards the end of 1545, moved to Lothian, expecting to be joined there by his westland supporters, led by Cassilis—but entertaining dark forebodings of his doom.

There were, however, other Wisharts, Protestants, in Scotland. It is not possible to prove that this reformer, though the associate, was the agent of the murderers, or was even conscious of their schemes. Yet if he had been, there was no matter for marvel. Knox himself approved of and applauded the murders of Cardinal Beaton and of Riccio, and, in that age, too many men of all creeds and parties believed that to kill an opponent of their religious cause was to imitate Phinehas, Jael, Jehu, and other patriots of Hebrew history. Dr. M'Crie remarks that Knox "held the opinion, that persons who, according to the law of God and the just laws of society, have forfeited their lives by the commission of flagrant crimes, such as notorious murderers and tyrants, may warrantably be put to death by private individuals, provided all redress in the ordinary course of justice is rendered impossible, in consequence of the offenders having usurped the executive authority, or being systematically protected by oppressive rulers." The ideas of Knox, in fact, varied in varying circumstances and moods, and, as we shall show, at times he preached notions far more truculent than those attributed to him by his biographer; at times was all for saint-like submission and mere "passive resistance." {17}

The current ideas of both parties on "killing no murder" were little better than those of modern anarchists. It was a prevalent opinion that a king might have a subject assassinated, if to try him publicly entailed political inconveniences. The Inquisition, in Spain, vigorously repudiated this theory, but the Inquisition was in advance of the age. Knox, as to the doctrine of "killing no murder," was, and Wishart may have been, a man of his time. But Knox, in telling the story of a murder which he approves, unhappily displays a glee unbecoming a reformer of the Church of Him who blamed St. Peter for his recourse to the sword. The very essence of Christianity is cast to the winds when Knox utters his laughter over the murders or misfortunes of his opponents, yielding, as Dr. M'Crie says, "to the strong propensity which he felt to indulge his vein of humour." Other good men rejoiced in the murder of an enemy, but Knox chuckled.

Nothing has injured Knox more in the eyes of posterity (when they happen to be aware of the facts) than this "humour" of his.

Knox might be pardoned had he merely excused the murder of "the devil's own son," Cardinal Beaton, who executed the law on his friend and master, George Wishart. To Wishart Knox bore a tender and enthusiastic affection, crediting him not only with the virtues of charity and courage which he possessed, but also with supernormal premonitions; "he was so clearly illuminated with the spirit of prophecy." These premonitions appear to have come to Wishart by way of vision. Knox asserted some prophetic gift for himself, but never hints anything as to the method, whether by dream, vision, or the hearing of voices. He often alludes to himself as "the prophet," and claims certain privileges in that capacity. For example the prophet may blamelessly preach what men call "treason," as we shall see. As to his actual predictions of events, he occasionally writes as if they were mere deductions from Scripture. God will punish the idolater; A or B is an idolater; therefore it is safe to predict that God will punish him or her. "What man then can cease to prophesy?" he asks; and there is, if we thus consider the matter, no reason why anybody should ever leave off prophesying. {18a}

But if the art of prophecy is common to all Bible-reading mankind, all mankind, being prophets, may promulgate treason, which Knox perhaps would not have admitted. He thought himself more specially a seer, and in his prayer after the failure of his friends, the murderers of Riccio, he congratulates himself on being favoured above the common sort of his brethren, and privileged to "forespeak" things, in an unique degree.

"I dare not deny . . . but that God hath revealed unto me secrets unknown to the world," he writes {18b}; and these claims soar high above mere deductions from Scripture. His biographer, Dr. M'Crie, doubts whether we can dismiss, as necessarily baseless, all stories of "extraordinary premonitions since the completion of the canon of inspiration." {19} Indeed, there appears to be no reason why we should draw the line at a given date, and "limit the operations of divine Providence." I would be the last to do so, but then Knox's premonitions are sometimes, or usually, without documentary and contemporary corroboration; once he certainly prophesied after the event (as we shall see), and he never troubles himself about his predictions which were unfulfilled, as against Queen Elizabeth.

He supplied the Kirk with the tradition of supernormal premonitions in preachers—second-sight and clairvoyance—as in the case of Mr. Peden and other saints of the Covenant. But just as good cases of clairvoyance as any of Mr. Peden's are attributed to Catherine de Medici, who was not a saint, by her daughter, La Reine Margot, and others. In Knox, at all events, there is no trace of visual or auditory hallucinations, so common in religious experiences, whatever the creed of the percipient. He was not a visionary. More than this we cannot safely say about his prophetic vein.

The enthusiasm which induced a priest, notary, and teacher like Knox to carry a claymore in defence of a beloved teacher, Wishart, seems more appropriate to a man of about thirty than a man of forty, and, so far, supports the opinion that, in 1545, Knox was only thirty years of age. In that case, his study of the debates between the Church and the new opinions must have been relatively brief. Yet, in 1547, he already reckoned himself, not incorrectly, as a skilled disputant in favour of ideas with which he cannot have been very long familiar.

Wishart was taken, was tried, was condemned; was strangled, and his dead body was burned at St. Andrews on March 1, 1546. It is highly improbable that Knox could venture, as a marked man, to be present at the trial. He cites the account of it in his "History" from the contemporary Scottish narrative used by Foxe in his "Martyrs," and Laing, Knox's editor, thinks that Foxe "may possibly have been indebted for some" of the Scottish accounts "to the Scottish Reformer." It seems, if there be anything in evidence of tone and style, that what Knox quotes from Foxe in 1561-66 is what Knox himself actually wrote about 1547-48. Mr. Hill Burton observes in the tract "the mark of Knox's vehement colouring," and adds, "it is needless to seek in the account for precise accuracy." In "precise accuracy" many historians are as sadly to seek as Knox himself, but his peculiar "colouring" is all his own, and is as marked in the pamphlet on Wishart's trial, which he cites, as in the "History" which he acknowledged.

There are said to be but few copies of the first edition of the black letter tract on Wishart's trial, published in London, with Lindsay's "Tragedy of the Cardinal," by Day and Seres. I regard it as the earliest printed work of John Knox. {20} The author, when he describes Lauder, Wishart's official accuser, as "a fed sow . . . his face running down with sweat, and frothing at the mouth like ane bear," who "spat at Maister George's face, . . . " shows every mark of Knox's vehement and pictorial style. His editor, Laing, bids us observe "that all these opprobrious terms are copied from Foxe, or rather from the black letter tract." But the black letter tract, I conceive, must be Knox's own. Its author, like Knox, "indulges his vein of humour" by speaking of friars as "fiends"; like Knox he calls Wishart "Maister George," and "that servand of God."

The peculiarities of the tract, good and bad, the vivid familiar manner, the vehemence, the pictorial quality, the violent invective, are the notes of Knox's "History." Already, by 1547, or not much later, he was the perfect master of his style; his tone no more resembles that of his contemporary and fellow-historian, Lesley, than the style of Mr. J. R. Green resembles that of Mr. S. R. Gardiner.


We now take up Knox where we left him: namely when Wishart was arrested in January 1546. He was then tutor to the sons of the lairds of Langniddrie and Ormiston, Protestants and of the English party. Of his adventures we know nothing, till, on Beaton's murder (May 29, 1546), the Cardinal's successor, Archbishop Hamilton, drove him "from place to place," and, at Easter, 1547, he with his pupils entered the Castle of St. Andrews, then held, with some English aid, against the Regent Arran, by the murderers of Beaton and their adherents. {22} Knox was not present, of course, at Beaton's murder, about which he writes so "merrily," in his manner of mirth; nor at the events of Arran's siege of the castle, prior to April 1547. He probably, as regards these matters, writes from recollection of what Kirkcaldy of Grange, James Balfour, Balnaves, and the other murderers or associates of the murderers of the Cardinal told him in 1547, or later communicated to him as he wrote, about 1565-66. With his unfortunate love of imputing personal motives, he attributes the attacks by the rulers on the murderers mainly to the revengeful nature of Mary of Guise; the Cardinal having been "the comfort to all gentlewomen, and especially to wanton widows. His death must be revenged." {23a}

Knox avers that the besiegers of St. Andrews Castle, despairing of their task, near the end of January 1547 made a fraudulent truce with the assassins, hoping for the betrayal of the castle, or of some of the leaders. {23b} In his narrative we find partisanship or very erroneous information. The conditions were, he says, that (1) the murderers should hold the castle till Arran could obtain for them, from the Pope, a sufficient absolution; (2) that they should give hostages, as soon as the absolution was delivered to them; (3) that they and their friends should not be prosecuted, nor undergo any legal penalties for the murder of the Cardinal; (4) that they should meanwhile keep the eldest son of Arran as hostage, so long as their own hostages were kept. The Government, however, says Knox, "never minded to keep word of them" (of these conditions), "as the issue did declare."

There is no proof of this accusation of treachery on the part of Arran, or none known to me. The constant aim of Knox, his fixed idea, as an historian, is to accuse his adversaries of the treachery which often marked the negotiations of his friends.

From this point, the truce, dated by Knox late in January 1547, he devotes eighteen pages to his own call to the ministry by the castle people, and to his controversies and sermons in St. Andrews. He then returns to history, and avers that, about June 21, 1547, the papal absolution was presented to the garrison merely as a veil for a treasonable attack, but was rejected, as it included the dubious phrase, Remittimus irremissibile—"We remit the crime that cannot be remitted." Nine days later, June 29, he says, by "the treasonable mean" of Arran, Archbishop Hamilton, and Mary of Guise, twenty-one French galleys, and such an army as the Firth had never seen, hove into view, and on June 30 summoned the castle to surrender. The siege of St Andrews Castle, from the sea, by the French then began, but the garrison and castle were unharmed, and many of the galley slaves and some French soldiers were slain, and a ship was driven out of action. The French "shot two days" only. On July 19 the siege was renewed by land, guns were mounted on the spires of St. Salvator's College chapel and on the Cathedral, and did much scathe, though, during the first three weeks of the siege, the garrison "had many prosperous chances." Meanwhile Knox prophesied the defeat of his associates, because of "their corrupt life." They had robbed and ravished, and were probably demoralised by Knox's prophecies. On the last day of July the castle surrendered. {24} Knox adds that his friends would deal with France alone, as "Scottish men had all traitorously betrayed them."

Now much of this narrative is wrong; wrong in detail, in suggestion, in omission. That a man of fifty, or sixty, could attribute the attacks on Beaton's murderers to mere revenge, specially to that of a "wanton widow," Mary of Guise (who had, we are to believe, so much of the Cardinal's attentions as his mistress, Mariotte Ogilvy, could spare), is significant of the spirit in which Knox wrote history. He had a strong taste for such scandals as this about the "wanton widow."

Wherever he touches on Mary of Guise (who once treated him in a spirit of banter), he deals a stab at her name and fame. On all that concerns her personal character and political conduct, he is unworthy of credit when uncorroborated by better authority. Indeed Knox's spirit is so unworthy that for this, among other reasons, Archbishop Spottiswoode declined to believe in his authorship of the "History." The actual facts were not those recorded by Knox.

As regards the "Appointment" or arrangement of the Scottish Government with the Castilians, it was not made late in January 1547, but was at least begun by December 17-19, 1546. {25a} On January 11, 1547, a spy of England, Stewart of Cardonald, reports that the garrison have given pledges and await their absolution from Rome. {25b} With regard to Knox's other statements in this place, it was not after this truce, first, but before it, on November 26, that Arran invited French assistance, if England would not include Scotland in a treaty of peace with France. An English invasion was expected in February 1547, and Arran's object in the "Appointment" with the garrison was to prevent the English from becoming possessed of the Castle of St. Andrews. Far from desiring a papal pardon—a mere pretext to gain time for English relief—the garrison actually asked Henry VIII. to request the Emperor, to implore the Pope, "to stop and hinder their absolution." {25c} Knox very probably knew nothing of all this, but his efforts to throw the blame of treachery on his opponents are obviously futile.

As to the honesty of his associates—before the death of Henry VIII. (January 28, 1547), the Castilians had promised him not to surrender the place without his consent, and to put Arran's son in his hands, promises which they also made, on Henry's death, to the English Government; in February they repeated these promises, quite incompatible with their vow to surrender if absolved. Knox represents them as merely promising to Henry that they would return Arran's son, and support the plan of marrying Mary Stuart to Prince Edward of Wales! {26a} In March 1547, English ships gathered at Holy Island, to relieve the castle. Not on June 21, 1547, as Knox alleges, but before April 2, the papal absolution for the murderers arrived. They mocked at it; and the spy who reports the facts is told that they "would rather have a boll of wheat than all the Pope's remissions." {26b} Whatever the terms of the papal remission, they had already, before it arrived, bound themselves to England not to accept it save with English concurrence; and England, then preparing to invade Scotland, could not possibly concur. Such was the honesty of Knox's party, and we already see how far his "History" deserves to be accepted as historical.

Next, what is most surprising, Knox's account of the month of ineffectual siege by the French, while he was actually in the castle, rests on a strange error of his memory. The contemporary diary, Diurnal of Occurrences dates the sending (the arrival must be meant) of the French galleys, not on June 29, as Knox dates their arrival, but on July 24. Professor Hume Brown says that the Diurnal gives the date as June 24 (a slip of the pen), "but Knox had surely the best opportunity of knowing both facts" {27a}—that is, the number of the galleys, and the date of their coming. Despite his unrivalled opportunities of knowledge, Knox did not know. It is not quite correct to say that "Knox in his 'History' shows throughout a conscientious regard to accuracy of statement." Whatever the number of the galleys (Knox says twenty-one; the Diurnal says sixteen), on July 13-14, they are reported by Lord Eure, at Berwick, as passing or having just passed Eyemouth. {27b} They did not therefore suffer for three weeks at the garrison's hands, or for three weeks desert the siege, but probably reached the scene of action before the date in the Diurnal (July 24), as, on July 23, the French Ambassador in England heard that they were investing the castle. {27c} Allowing five or six days for transmission of news, they probably began the attack from the sea about July 16 or 17, not, as Knox says, on June 30. Perhaps he is right in saying that the French galleys only fired for two days and retreated, rather battered, to Dundee. Land forces next attacked the hold, which surrendered on July 29 (as was known in London on August 5), that is, on the first day that the land battery was erected.

Knox gives a much more full account of his own controversies, in April- June 1547, than of political events. He first, on arrival at the castle, drew up a catechism for his pupils, and publicly catechised them on its tenets, in the parish kirk in South Street. It is unfortunate that we do not possess this catechism. At the time when he wrote, Knox was possibly more of "Martin's" mind, as he familiarly terms Luther, both as to the Sacrament and as to the Order of Bishops, than he was after his residence in Geneva. Wishart, however, was well acquainted with Helvetic doctrine; he had, as we saw, translated a Helvetic Confession of Faith, perhaps with the view of introducing it into Scotland, and Knox may already have imbibed Calvinism from him. He was not yet—he never was—a full-blown Presbyterian, and, while thinking nothing of "orders," would not have rejected a bishop, if the bishop preached and was of godly and frugal life. Already sermons were the most important part of public worship in the mind of Knox.

In addition to public catechising he publicly expounded, and lectured on the Fourth Gospel, in the chapel of the castle. He doubted if he had "a lawful vocation" to preach. The castle pulpit was then occupied by an ex-friar named Rough. This divine, later burned in England, preached a sermon declaring a doctrine accepted by Knox, namely, that any congregation could call on any man in whom they "espied the gifts of God" to be their preacher; he offered Knox the post, and all present agreed. Knox wept, and for days his gloom declared his sense of his responsibility: such was "his holy vocation." The garrison was, confessedly, brutal, licentious, and rapacious, but they "all" partook of the holy Communion. {28}

In controversy, Knox declared the Church to be "the synagogue of Satan," and in the Pope he detected and denounced "the Man of Sin." On the following Sunday he proved, from Daniel, that the Roman Church is "that last Beast." The Church is also anti-Christ, and "the Hoore of Babylon," and Knox dilated on the personal misconduct of Popes and "all shavelings for the most part." He contrasted Justification by Faith with the customs of pardons and pilgrimages.

After these remarks, a controversy was held between Knox and the sub-prior, Wynram, the Scottish Vicar of Bray, Knox being understood to maintain that no bishop who did not preach was really a bishop; that the Mass is "abominable idolatry"; that Purgatory does not exist; and that the tithes are not necessarily the property of churchmen—a doctrine very welcome to the hungry nobles of Scotland. Knox, of course, easily overcame an ignorant opponent, a friar, who joined in the fray. His own arguments he later found time to write out fully in the French galleys, in which he was a prisoner, after the fall of the castle. If he "wrate in the galleys," as he says, they cannot have been always such floating hells as they are usually reckoned.

That Knox, and other captives from the castle, were placed in the galleys after their surrender, was an abominable stretch of French power. They were not subjects of France. The terms on which they surrendered are not exactly known. Knox avers that they were to be free to live in France, and that, if they wished to leave, they were to be conveyed, at French expense, to any country except Scotland. Buchanan declares that only the lives of the garrison and their friends were secured by the terms of surrender. Lesley supports Knox, {30a} who is probably accurate.

To account for the French severity, Knox tells us that the Pope insisted on it, appealing to both the Scottish and French Governments; and Scotland sent an envoy to France to beg "that those of the castle should be sharply handled." Men of birth were imprisoned, the rest went to the galleys. Knox's life cannot have been so bad as that of the Huguenot galley slaves under Louis XIV. He was allowed to receive letters; he read and commented on a treatise written in prison by Balnaves; and he even wrote a theological work, unless this work was his commentary on Balnaves. These things can only have been possible when the galleys were not on active service. In a very manly spirit, he never dilated on his sufferings, and merely alludes to "the torment I sustained in the galleys." He kept up his heart, always prophesying deliverance; and once (June, 1548?), when in view of St. Andrews, declared that he should preach again in the kirk where his career began. Unluckily, the person to whom he spoke, at a moment when he himself was dangerously ill, denied that he had ever been in the galleys at all! {30b} He was Sir James Balfour, a notorious scoundrel, quite untrustworthy; according to Knox, he had spoken of the prophecy, in Scotland, long before its fulfilment.

Knox's health was more or less undermined, while his spiritual temper was not mollified by nineteen months of the galleys, mitigated as they obviously were.

It is, doubtless, to his "torment" in the galleys that Knox refers when he writes: "I know how hard the battle is between the spirit and the flesh, under the heavy cross of affliction, where no worldly defence, but present death, does appear. . . . Rests only Faith, provoking us to call earnestly, and pray for assistance of God's spirit, wherein if we continue, our most desperate calamities shall turn to gladness, and to a prosperous end. . . . With experience I write this."

In February or March, 1549, Knox was released; by April he was in England, and, while Edward VI. lived, was in comparative safety.


Knox at once appeared in England in a character revolting to the later Presbyterian conscience, which he helped to educate. The State permitted no cleric to preach without a Royal license, and Knox was now a State licensed preacher at Berwick, one of many "State officials with a specified mission." He was an agent of the English administration, then engaged in forcing a detested religion on the majority of the English people. But he candidly took his own line, indifferent to the compromises of the rulers in that chaos of shifting opinions. For example, the Prayer Book of Edward VI. at that time took for granted kneeling as the appropriate attitude for communicants. Knox, at Berwick, on the other hand, bade his congregation sit, as he conceived that to have been the usage at the first institution of the rite. Possibly the Apostles, in fact, supped in a recumbent attitude, as Cranmer justly remarked later (John xiii. 25), but Knox supposed them to have sat. In a letter to his Berwick flock, he reminds them of his practice on this point; but he would not dissent from kneeling if "magistrates make known, as that they" (would?) "have done if ministers were willing to do their duties, that kneeling is not retained in the Lord's Supper for maintenance of any superstition," much less as "adoration of the Lord's Supper." This, "for a time," would content him: and this he obtained. {33a} Here Knox appears to make the civil authority—"the magistrates"—governors of the Church, while at the same time he does not in practice obey them unless they accept his conditions.

This letter to the Berwick flock must be prior to the autumn of 1552, in which, as we shall see, Knox obtained his terms as to kneeling. He went on, in his epistle to the Berwickians, to speak in "a tone of moderation and modesty," for which, says Dr. Lorimer, not many readers will be prepared. {33b} In this modest passage, Knox says that, as to "the chief points of religion," he, with God's help, "will give place to neither man nor angel teaching the contrary" of his preaching. Yet an angel might be supposed to be well informed on points of doctrine! "But as to ceremonies or rites, things of smaller weight, I was not minded to move contention. . . ." The one point which—"because I am but one, having in my contrary magistrates, common order, and judgments, and many learned"—he is prepared to yield, and that for a time, is the practice of kneeling, but only on three conditions. These being granted, "with patience will I bear that one thing, daily thirsting and calling unto God for reformation of that and others." {33c} But he did not bear that one thing; he would not kneel even after his terms were granted! This is the sum of Knox's "moderation and modesty"!

Though he is not averse from talking about himself, Knox, in his "History," spares but three lines to his five years' residence in England (1549-54). His first charge was Berwick (1549-51), where we have seen he celebrated holy Communion by the Swiss rite, all meekly sitting. The Second Prayer Book, of 1552, when Knox ministered in Newcastle, bears marks of his hand. He opposed, as has been said, the rubric bidding the communicants kneel; the attitude savoured of "idolatry."

The circumstances in which Knox carried his point on this question are most curious. Just before October 12, 1552, a foreign Protestant, Johannes Utenhovius, wrote to the Zurich Protestant, Bullinger, to the effect that a certain vir bonus, Scotus natione (a good man and a Scot), a preacher (concionator), of the Duke of Northumberland, had delivered a sermon before the King and Council, "in which he freely inveighed against the Anglican custom of kneeling at the Lord's Supper." Many listeners were greatly moved, and Utenhovius prayed that the sermon might be of blessed effect. Knox was certainly in London at this date, and was almost certainly the excellent Scot referred to by Utenhovius. The Second Prayer Book of Edward VI. was then in such forwardness that Parliament had appointed it to be used in churches, beginning on November 1. The book included the command to kneel at the Lord's Supper, and any agitation against the practice might seem to be too late. Cranmer, the Primate, was in favour of the rubric as it stood, and on October 7, 1552, addressed the Privy Council in a letter which, without naming Knox, clearly shows his opinion of our Reformer. The book, as it stood, said Cranmer, had the assent of King and Parliament—now it was to be altered, apparently, "without Parliament." The Council ought not to be thus influenced by "glorious and unquiet spirits." Cranmer calls Knox, as Throckmorton later called Queen Mary's Bothwell, "glorious" in the sense of the Latin gloriosus, "swaggering," or "arrogant."

Cranmer goes on to denounce the "glorious and unquiet spirits, which can like nothing but that is after their own fancy, and cease not to make trouble and disquietude when things be most quiet and in good order." {35} Their argument (Knox's favourite), that whatever is not commanded in Scripture is unlawful and ungodly, "is a subversion of all order as well in religion as in common policy."

Cranmer ends with the amazing challenge: "I will set my foot by his to be tried in the fire, that his doctrine is untrue, and not only untrue but seditious, and perilous to be heard of any subjects, as a thing breaking the bridle of obedience and loosing them from the bond of all princes' laws."

Cranmer had a premonition of the troubled years of James VI. and of the Covenant, when this question of kneeling was the first cause of the Bishops' wars. But Knox did not accept, as far as we know, the mediaeval ordeal by fire.

Other questions about practices enjoined in the Articles arose. A "Confession," in which Knox's style may be traced, was drawn up, and consequently that "Declaration on Kneeling" was intercalated into the Prayer Book, wherein it is asserted that the attitude does not imply adoration of the elements, or belief in the Real Presence, "for that were idolatry." Elizabeth dropped, and Charles II. restored, this "Black Rubric" which Anglicanism owes to the Scottish Reformer. {36a} He "once had a good opinion," he says, of the Liturgy as it now stood, but he soon found that it was full of idolatries.

The most important event in the private life of Knox, during his stay at Berwick, was his acquaintance with a devout lady of tormented conscience, Mrs. Bowes, wife of the Governor of Norham Castle on Tweed. Mrs. Bowes's tendency to the new ideas in religion was not shared by her husband and his family; the results will presently be conspicuous. In April 1550, Knox preached at Newcastle a sermon on his favourite doctrine that the Mass is "Idolatry," because it is "of man's invention," an opinion not shared by Tunstall, then Bishop of Durham. Knox used "idolatry" in a constructive sense, as when we talk of "constructive treason." But, in practice, he regarded Catholics as "idolaters," in the same sense as Elijah regarded Hebrew worshippers of alien deities, Chemosh or Moloch, and he later drew the inference that idolaters, as in the Old Testament, must be put to death. Thus his was logically a persecuting religion.

Knox was made a King's chaplain and transferred to Newcastle. He saw that the country was, by preference, Catholic; that the life of Edward VI. hung on a thread; and that with the accession of his sister, Mary Tudor, Protestant principles would be as unsafe as under "umquhile the Cardinal." Knox therefore, "from the foresight of troubles to come" (so he writes to Mrs. Bowes, February 28, 1554), {36b} declined any post, a bishopric, or a living, which would in honour oblige him to face the fire of persecution. At the same time he was even then far at odds with the Church of England that he had sound reasons for refusing benefices.

On Christmas day, 1552, {37a} he preached at Newcastle against Papists, as "thirsting nothing more than the King's death, which their iniquity would procure." In two brief years Knox was himself publicly expressing his own thirst for the Queen's death, and praying for a Jehu or a Phinehas, slayers of idolaters, such as Mary Tudor. If any fanatic had taken this hint, and the life of Mary Tudor, Catholics would have said that Knox's "iniquity procured" the murder, and they would have had fair excuse for the assertion.

Meanwhile charges were brought against the Reformer, on the ground of his Christmas sermon of peace and goodwill. Northumberland (January 9, 1552- 53) sends to Cecil "a letter of poor Knox, by the which you may perceive what perplexity the poor soul remaineth in at this present." We have not Knox's interesting letter, but Northumberland pled his cause against a charge of treason. In fact, however, the Court highly approved of his sermon. He was presently again in what he believed to be imminent danger of life: "I fear that I be not yet ripe, nor able to glorify Christ by my faith," he wrote to Mrs. Bowes, "but what lacketh now, God shall perform in His own time." {37b} We do not know what peril threatened the Reformer now (probably in March 1553), but he frequently, later, seems to have doubted his own "ripeness" for martyrdom. His reluctance to suffer did not prevent him from constant attendance to the tedious self-tormentings of Mrs. Bowes, and of "three honest poor women" in London.

Knox, at all events, was not so "perplexed" that he feared to speak his mind in the pulpit. In Lent, 1553, preaching before the boy king, he denounced his ministers in trenchant historical parallels between them and Achitophel, Shebna, and Judas. Later, young Mr. Mackail, applying the same method to the ministers of Charles II., was hanged. "What wonder is it then," said Knox, "that a young and innocent king be deceived by crafty, covetous, wicked, and ungodly councillors? I am greatly afraid that Achitophel be councillor, that Judas bear the purse, and that Shebna be scribe, comptroller, and treasurer." {38a}

This appears the extreme of audacity. Yet nothing worse came to Knox than questions, by the Council, as to his refusal of a benefice, and his declining, as he still did, to kneel at the Communion (April 14, 1553). His answers prove that he was out of harmony with the fluctuating Anglicanism of the hour. Northumberland could not then resent the audacities of pulpiteers, because the Protestants were the only party who might stand by him in his approaching effort to crown Lady Jane Grey. Now all the King's preachers, obviously by concerted action, "thundered" against Edward's Council, in the Lent or Easter of 1553. Manifestly, in the old Scots phrase, "the Kirk had a back"; had some secular support, namely that of their party, which Northumberland could not slight. Meanwhile Knox was sent on a preaching tour in Buckinghamshire, and there he was when Edward VI. died, in the first week of July 1553. {38b}

Knox's official attachment to England expired with his preaching license, on the death of Edward VI. and the accession of Mary Tudor. He did not at once leave the country, but preached both in London and on the English border, while the new queen was settling herself on the throne. While within Mary's reach, Knox did not encourage resistance against that idolatress; he did not do so till he was safe in France. Indeed, in his prayer used after the death of Edward VI., before the fires of Oxford and Smithfield were lit, Knox wrote: "Illuminate the heart of our Sovereign Lady, Queen Mary, with pregnant gifts of the Holy Ghost. . . . Repress thou the pride of those that would rebel. . . . Mitigate the hearts of those that persecute us."

In the autumn of 1553, Knox's health was very bad; he had gravel, and felt his bodily strength broken. Moreover, he was in the disagreeable position of being betrothed to a very young lady, Marjorie Bowes, with the approval of her devout mother, the wife of Richard Bowes, commander of Norham Castle, near Berwick, but to the anger and disgust of the Bowes family in general. They by no means shared Knox's ideas of religion, rather regarding him as a penniless unfrocked "Scot runagate," whose alliance was discreditable and distasteful, and might be dangerous. "Maist unpleasing words" passed, and it is no marvel that Knox, being persecuted in one city, fled to another, leaving England for Dieppe early in March 1554. {39}

His conscience was not entirely at ease as to his flight. "Why did I flee? Assuredly I cannot tell, but of one thing I am sure, the fear of death was not the chief cause of my fleeing," he wrote to Mrs. Bowes from Dieppe. "Albeit that I have, in the beginning of this battle, appeared to play the faint-hearted and feeble soldier (the cause I remit to God), yet my prayer is that I may be restored to the battle again." {40a} Knox was, in fact, most valiant when he had armed men at his back; he had no enthusiasm for taking part in the battle when unaided by the arm of flesh. On later occasions this was very apparent, and he has confessed, as we saw, that he did not choose to face "the trouble to come" without means of retreat. His valour was rather that of the general than of the lonely martyr. The popular idea of Knox's personal courage, said to have been expressed by the Regent Morton in the words spoken at his funeral, "here lieth a man who in his life never feared the face of man," is entirely erroneous. His learned and sympathetic editor, David Laing, truly writes: "Knox cannot be said to have possessed the impetuous and heroic boldness of a Luther when surrounded with danger. . . . On more than one occasion Knox displayed a timidity or shrinking from danger, scarcely to have been expected from one who boasted of his willingness to endure the utmost torture, or suffer death in his Master's cause. Happily he was not put to the test. . . ." {40b}

Dr. Laing puts the case more strongly than I feel justified in doing, for Knox, far from "boasting of his willingness to face the utmost torture," more than once doubts his own readiness for martyrdom. We must remember that even Blessed Edmund Campion, who went gaily to torture and death, had doubts as to the necessity of that journey. {40c}

Nor was there any reason why Knox should stay in England to be burned, if he could escape—with less than ten groats in his pocket—as he did. It is not for us moderns to throw the first stone at a reluctant martyr, still less to applaud useless self-sacrifice, but we do take leave to think that, having fled early, himself, from the martyr's crown, Knox showed bad taste in his harsh invectives against Protestants who, staying in England, conformed to the State religion under Mary Tudor.

It is not impossible that his very difficult position as the lover of Marjorie Bowes—a position of which, while he remained in England, the burden fell on the poor girl—may have been one reason for Knox's flight, while the entreaties of his friends that he would seek safety must have had their influence.

On the whole it seems more probable that when he committed himself to matrimony with a young girl, the fifth daughter of Mrs. Bowes, he was approaching his fortieth rather than his fiftieth year. Older than he are happy husbands made, sometimes, though Marjorie Bowes's choice may have been directed by her pious mother, whose soul could find no rest in the old faith, and not much in the new.

At thirty-eight the Reformer, we must remember, must have been no uncomely wooer. His conversation must have been remarkably vivid: he had adventures enough to tell, by land and sea; while such a voice as he raised withal in the pulpit, like Edward Irving, has always been potent with women, as Sir Walter Scott remarks in Irving's own case. His expression, says Young, had a certain geniality; on the whole we need not doubt that Knox could please when he chose, especially when he was looked up to as a supreme authority. He despised women in politics, but had many friends of the sex, and his letters to them display a manly tenderness of affection without sentimentality.

Writing to Mrs. Bowes from London in 1553, Knox mentions, as one of the sorrows of life, that "such as would most gladly remain together, for mutual comfort, cannot be suffered so to do. Since the first day that it pleased the providence of God to bring you and me in familiarity, I have always delighted in your company." He then wanders into religious reflections, but we see that he liked Mrs. Bowes, and Marjorie Bowes too, no doubt: he is careful to style the elderly lady "Mother." Knox's letters to Mrs. Bowes show the patience and courtesy with which the Reformer could comfort and counsel a middle-aged lady in trouble about her innocent soul. As she recited her infirmities, he reminds her, he "started back, and that is my common consuetude when anything pierces or touches my heart. Call to your mind what I did standing at the cupboard at Alnwick; in very deed I thought that no creature had been tempted as I was"—not by the charms of Mrs. Bowes, of course: he found that Satan troubled the lady with "the very same words that he troubles me with." Mrs. Bowes, in truth, with premature scepticism, was tempted to think that "the Scriptures of God are but a tale, and no credit to be given to them." The Devil, she is reminded by Knox, has induced "some philosophers to affirm that the world never had a beginning," which he refutes by showing that God predicted the pains of childbearing; and Mrs. Bowes, as the mother of twelve, knows how true this is.

The circular argument may or may not have satisfied Mrs. Bowes. {43}

The young object of Knox's passion, Marjorie Bowes, is only alluded to as "she whom God hath offered unto me, and commanded me to love as my own flesh,"—after her, Mrs. Bowes is the dearest of mankind to Knox. No mortal was ever more long-suffering with a spiritual hypochondriac, who avers that "the sins that reigned in Sodom and Gomore reign in me, and I have small power or none to resist!" Knox replies, with common sense, that Mrs. Bowes is obviously ignorant of the nature of these offences.

Writing to his betrothed he says nothing personal: merely reiterates his lessons of comfort to her mother. Meanwhile the lovers were parted, Knox going abroad; and it is to be confessed that he was not eager to come back.


No change of circumstances could be much more bitter than that which exile brought to Knox. He had been a decently endowed official of State, engaged in bringing a reluctant country into the ecclesiastical fold which the State, for the hour, happened to prefer. His task had been grateful, and his congregations, at least at Berwick and Newcastle, had, as a rule, been heartily with him. Wherever he preached, affectionate women had welcomed him and hung upon his words. The King and his ministers had hearkened unto him—young Edward with approval, Northumberland with such emotions as we may imagine—while the Primate of England had challenged him to a competitive ordeal by fire, and had been defeated, apparently without recourse to the fire-test.

But now all was changed; Knox was a lonely rover in a strange land, supported probably by collections made among his English friends, and by the hospitality of the learned. In his wanderings his heart burned within him many a time, and he abruptly departed from his theory of passive resistance. Now he eagerly desired to obtain, from Protestant doctors and pontiffs, support for the utterly opposite doctrine of armed resistance. Such support he did not get, or not in a satisfactory measure, so he commenced prophet on his own lines, and on his own responsibility.

When Knox's heart burned within him, he sometimes seized the pen and dashed off fiery tracts which occasionally caused inconvenience to the brethren, and trouble to himself in later years. In cooler moments, and when dubious or prosperous, he now and again displayed a calm opportunism much at odds with the inspirations of his grief and anger.

After his flight to Dieppe in March 1554, Knox was engaged, then, with a problem of difficulty, one of the central problems of his career and of the distracted age. In modern phrase, he wished to know how far, and in what fashion, persons of one religion might resist another religion, imposed upon them by the State of which they were subjects. On this point we have now no doubt, but in the sixteenth century "Authority" was held sacred, and martyrdom, according to Calvin, was to be preferred to civil war. If men were Catholics, and if the State was Protestant, they were liable, later, under Knox, to fines, exile, and death; but power was not yet given to him. If they were Protestants under a Catholic ruler, or Puritans under Anglican authority, Knox himself had laid down the rule of their conduct in his letter to his Berwick congregation. {45} "Remembering always, beloved brethren, that due obedience be given to magistrates, rulers, and princes, without tumult, grudge, or sedition. For, howsoever wicked themselves be in life, or howsoever ungodly their precepts or commandments be, ye must obey them for conscience' sake; except in chief points of religion, and then ye ought rather to obey God than man: not to pretend to defend God's truth or religion, ye being subjects, by violence or sword, but patiently suffering what God shall please be laid upon you for constant confession of your faith and belief." Man or angel who teaches contrary doctrine is corrupt of judgment, sent by God to blind the unworthy. And Knox proceeded to teach contrary doctrine!

His truly Christian ideas are of date 1552, with occasional revivals as opportunity suggested. In exile he was now asking (1554), how was a Protestant minority or majority to oppose the old faith, backed by kings and princes, fire and sword? He answered the question in direct contradiction of his Berwick programme: he was now all for active resistance. Later, in addressing Mary of Guise, and on another occasion, he recurred to his Berwick theory, and he always found biblical texts to support his contradictory messages.

At this moment resistance seemed hopeless enough. In England the Protestants of all shades were decidedly in a minority. They had no chance if they openly rose in arms; their only hope was in the death of Mary Tudor and the succession of Elizabeth—itself a poor hope in the eyes of Knox, who detested the idea of a female monarch. Might they "bow down in the House of Rimmon" by a feigned conformity? Knox, in a letter to the Faithful, printed in 1554, entirely rejected this compromise, to which Cecil stooped, thereby deserving hell, as the relentless Knox (who had fled) later assured him.

In the end of March 1554, probably, Knox left Dieppe for Geneva, where he could consult Calvin, not yet secure in his despotism, though he had recently burned Servetus. Next he went to Zurich, and laid certain questions before Bullinger, who gave answers in writing as to Knox's problems.

Could a woman rule a kingdom by divine right, and transfer the same to her husband?—Mary Tudor to Philip of Spain, is, of course, to be understood. Bullinger replied that it was a hazardous thing for the godly to resist the laws of a country. Philip the eunuch, though converted, did not drive Queen Candace out of Ethiopia. If a tyrannous and ungodly Queen reign, godly persons "have example and consolation in the case of Athaliah." The transfer of power to a husband is an affair of the laws of the country.

Again, must a ruler who enforces "idolatry" be obeyed? May true believers, in command of garrisons, repel "this ungodly violence"? Bullinger answered, in effect, that "it is very difficult to pronounce upon every particular case." He had not the details before him. In short, nothing definite was to be drawn out of Bullinger. {47a}

Dr. M'Crie observes, indeed, that Knox submitted to the learned of Switzerland "certain difficult questions, which were suggested by the present condition of affairs in England, and about which his mind had been greatly occupied. Their views with respect to these coinciding with his own, he was confirmed in the judgment which he had already formed for himself." {47b}

In fact, Knox himself merely says that he had "reasoned with" pastors and the learned; he does not say that they agreed with him, and they certainly did not. Despite the reserve of Bullinger and of Calvin, Knox was of his new opinions still. These divines never backed his views.

By May, Knox had returned to Dieppe, and published an epistle to the Faithful. The rebellion of Sir Thomas Wyatt had been put down, a blow to true religion. We have no evidence that Knox stimulated the rising, but he alludes once to his exertions in favour of the Princess Elizabeth. The details are unknown.

In July, apparently, Knox printed his "Faithful Admonition to the Professors of God's Truth in England," and two editions of the tract were published in that country. The pamphlet is full of violent language about "the bloody, butcherly brood" of persecutors, and Knox spoke of what might have occurred had the Queen "been sent to hell before these days." The piece presents nothing, perhaps, so plain spoken about the prophet's right to preach treason as a passage in the manuscript of an earlier Knoxian epistle of May 1554 to the Faithful. "The prophets of God sometimes may teach treason against kings, and yet neither he, nor such as obey the word spoken in the Lord's name by him, offends God." {48} That sentence contains doctrine not submitted to Bullinger by Knox. He could not very well announce himself to Bullinger as a "prophet of God." But the sentence, which occurs in manuscript copies of the letter of May 1554, does not appear in the black letter printed edition. Either Knox or the publisher thought it too risky.

In the published "Admonition," however, of July 1554, we find Knox exclaiming: "God, for His great mercy's sake, stir up some Phineas, Helias, or Jehu, that the blood of abominable idolaters may pacify God's wrath, that it consume not the whole multitude. Amen." {49a} This is a direct appeal to the assassin. If anybody will play the part of Phinehas against "idolaters"—that is the Queen of England and Philip of Spain—God's anger will be pacified. "Delay not thy vengeance, O Lord, but let death devour them in haste . . . For there is no hope of their amendment, . . . He shall send Jehu to execute his just judgments against idolaters. Jezebel herself shall not escape the vengeance and plagues that are prepared for her portion." {49b} These passages are essential. Professor Hume Brown expresses our own sentiments when he remarks: "In casting such a pamphlet into England at the time he did, Knox indulged his indignation, in itself so natural under the circumstances, at no personal risk, while he seriously compromised those who had the strongest claims on his most generous consideration." This is plain truth, and when some of Knox's English brethren later behaved to him in a manner which we must wholly condemn, their conduct, they said, had for a motive the mischief done to Protestants in England by his fiery "Admonition," and their desire to separate themselves from the author of such a pamphlet.

Knox did not, it will be observed, here call all or any of the faithful to a general massacre of their Catholic fellow-subjects. He went to that length later, as we shall show. In an epistle of 1554 he only writes: "Some shall demand, 'What then, shall we go and slay all idolaters?' That were the office, dear brethren, of every civil magistrate within his realm. . . . The slaying of idolaters appertains not to every particular man." {49c}

This means that every Protestant king should massacre all his inconvertible Catholic subjects! This was indeed a counsel of perfection; but it could never be executed, owing to the carnal policy of worldly men.

In writing about "the office of the civil magistrate," Knox, a Border Scot of the age of the blood feud, seems to have forgotten, first, that the Old Testament prophets of the period were not unanimous in their applause of Jehu's massacre of the royal family; next, that between the sixteenth century A.D. and Jehu, had intervened the Christian revelation. Our Lord had given no word of warrant to murder or massacre! No persecuted apostle had dealt in appeals to the dagger. As for Jehu, a prophet had condemned his conduct. Hosea writes that the Lord said unto him, "Yet a little while, and I will avenge the blood of Jezreel upon the house of Jehu," but doubtless Knox would have argued that Hosea was temporarily uninspired, as he argued about St. Paul and St. James later.

However this delicate point may be settled, the appeal for a Phinehas is certainly unchristian. The idolaters, the unreformed, might rejoice, with the Nuncio of 1583, that the Duc de Guise had a plan for murdering Elizabeth, though it was not to be communicated to the Vicar of God, who should have no such dealings against "that wicked woman." To some Catholics, Elizabeth: to Knox, Mary was as Jezebel, and might laudably be assassinated. In idolaters nothing can surprise us; when persecuted they, in their unchristian fashion, may retort with the dagger or the bowl. But that Knox should have frequently maintained the doctrine of death to religious opponents is a strange and deplorable circumstance. In reforming the Church of Christ he omitted some elements of Christianity.

Suppose, for a moment, that in deference to the teaching of the Gospel, Knox had never called for a Jehu, but had ever denounced, by voice and pen, those murderous deeds of his own party which he celebrates as "godly facts," he would have raised Protestantism to a moral pre-eminence. Dark pages of Scottish history might never have been written: the consciences of men might have been touched, and the cruelties of the religious conflict might have been abated. Many of them sprang from the fear of assassination.

But Knox in some of his writings identified his cause with the palace revolutions of an ancient Oriental people. Not that he was a man of blood; when in France he dissuaded Kirkcaldy of Grange and others from stabbing the gaolers in making their escape from prison. Where idolaters in official position were concerned, and with a pen in his hand, he had no such scruples. He was a child of the old pre-Christian scriptures; of the earlier, not of the later prophets.


The consequences of the "Admonition" came home to Knox when English refugees in Frankfort, impeded by him and others in the use of their Liturgy, accused him of high treason against Philip and Mary, and the Emperor, whom he had compared to Nero as an enemy of Christ.

The affair of "The Troubles at Frankfort" brought into view the great gulf for ever fixed between Puritanism and the Church of England. It was made plain that Knox and the Anglican community were of incompatible temperaments, ideas, and, we may almost say, instincts. To Anglicans like Cranmer, Knox, from the first, was as antipathetic as they were to him. "We can assure you," wrote some English exiles for religion's sake to Calvin, "that that outrageous pamphlet of Knox's" (his "Admonition") "added much oil to the flame of persecution in England. For before the publication of that book not one of our brethren had suffered death; but as soon as it came forth we doubt not but you are well aware of the number of excellent men who have perished in the flames; to say nothing of how many other godly men have been exposed to the risk of all their property, and even life itself, on the sole ground of either having had this book in their possession or having read it."

Such were the charges brought against Knox by these English Protestant exiles, fleeing from the persecution that followed the "Admonition," and, they say, took fresh ferocity from that tract.

The quarrel between Knox and them definitely marks the beginning of the rupture between the fathers of the Church of England and the fathers of Puritanism, Scottish Presbyterianism, and Dissent. The representatives of Puritans and of Anglicans were now alike exiled, poor, homeless, without any abiding city. That they should instantly quarrel with each other over their prayer book (that which Knox had helped to correct) was, as Calvin told them, "extremely absurd." Each faction probably foresaw—certainly Knox's party foresaw—that, in the English congregation at Frankfort, a little flock barely tolerated, was to be settled the character of Protestantism in England, if ever England returned to Protestantism. "This evil" (the acceptance of the English Second Book of Prayer of Edward VI.) "shall in time be established . . . and never be redressed, neither shall there for ever be an end of this controversy in England," wrote Knox's party to the Senate of Frankfort. The religious disruption in England was, in fact, incurable, but so it would have been had the Knoxians prevailed in Frankfort. The difference between the Churchman and the Dissenter goes to the root of the English character; no temporary triumph of either side could have brought Peace and union. While the world stands they will not be peaceful and united.

The trouble arose thus. At the end of June 1554, some English exiles of the Puritan sort, men who objected to surplices, responses, kneeling at the Communion, and other matters of equal moment, came to Frankfort. They obtained leave to use the French Protestant Chapel, provided that they "should not dissent from the Frenchmen in doctrine or ceremonies, lest they should thereby minister occasions of offence." They had then to settle what Order of services they should use; "anything they pleased," said the magistrates of Frankfort, "as long as they and the French kept the peace." They decided to adopt the English Order, barring responses, the Litany, the surplice, "and many other things." {54} The Litany was regarded by Knox as rather of the nature of magic than of prayer, the surplice was a Romish rag, and there was some other objection to the congregation's taking part in the prayers by responses, though they were not forbidden to mingle their voices in psalmody. Dissidium valde absurdum—"a very absurd quarrel," among exiled fellow-countrymen, said Calvin, was the dispute which arose on these points. The Puritans, however, decided to alter the service to their taste, and enjoyed the use of the chapel. They had obtained a service which they were not likely to have been allowed to enforce in England had Edward VI. lived; but on this point they were of another opinion.

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