John Knox (c.1513 – November 24, 1572) was a Scottish minister, theologian, and writer who was a leader of the Reformation and is considered the founder of the Presbyterian Church of Scotland.
Early life & Childhood Edit
John Knox was born sometime between 1505 and 1515 in or near Haddington, the county town of East Lothian. His father, William Knox, was a merchant. All that is known of his mother is that her maiden name was Sinclair and that she died when John Knox was a child. Their eldest son, William, carried on his father's business, which helped in Knox's international communications.
Knox was probably educated at the grammar school in Haddington. In this time, the priesthood was the only path for those whose inclinations were academic rather than mercantile or agricultural. He proceeded to further studies at the University of St Andrews or possibly at the University of Glasgow. He studied under John Major, one of the greatest scholars of the time.
The Protestant Reformation Edit
While it is not known how John was converted to the Protestant faith, perhaps the key formative influences on Knox were Patrick Hamilton and George Wishart. Wishart was a reformer who had fled Scotland in 1538 to escape punishment for heresy. He first moved to England, where in Bristol he preached against the veneration of the Virgin Mary.
He returned to Scotland in 1544, but the timing of his return was unfortunate. In December 1543, James Hamilton, Duke of Châtellerault, the appointed regent for the infant Mary, Queen of Scots, had decided with the Queen Mother, Mary of Guise, and Cardinal David Beaton to persecute the Protestant sect that had taken root in Scotland. Wishart traveled throughout Scotland preaching in favor of the reformation and when he arrived in East Lothian, Knox became one of his closest associates. Knox acted as his bodyguard, bearing a two-handed sword in order to defend him.
In December 1545, Wishart was seized on Cardinal Beaton's orders by the Earl of Bothwell and taken to the Castle of St Andrews. Knox was present on the night of Wishart's arrest and was prepared to follow him into captivity, but Wishart persuaded him against this course saying, "Nay, return to your children and God bless you. One is sufficient for a sacrifice." Wishart was subsequently prosecuted by Beaton's Public Accuser of Heretics, Archdeacon John Lauder. On 1 March 1546, he was burnt at the stake in the presence of Cardinal Beaton.
Knox had avoided being arrested by Lord Bothwell through Wishart's advice to return to tutoring. He took shelter with Douglas in Longniddry.
Chaplain John Knox Edit
Knox's powers as a preacher came to the attention of the chaplain of the garrison, John Rough. While Rough was preaching in the parish church on the Protestant principle of the popular election of a pastor, he proposed Knox to the congregation for that office. Knox did not relish the idea. According to his own account, he burst into tears and fled to his room. Within a week, however, he was giving his first sermon to a congregation that included his old teacher, John Major. He expounded on the seventh chapter of the Book of Daniel, comparing the Pope with the Antichrist. His sermon was marked by his consideration of the Bible as his sole authority and the doctrine of justification by faith alone, two elements that would remain in his thoughts throughout the rest of his life. A few days later, a debate was staged that allowed him to lay down additional theses including the rejection of the Mass, Purgatory, and prayers for the dead.
Confinement in French GalleysEdit
John Knox's chaplaincy of the castle garrison was not to last long. While Hamilton was willing to negotiate with England to stop their support of the rebels and bring the castle back under his control, Marie de Guise decided that it could be taken only by force and requested the king of France, Henry II to intervene. On June 29, 1547, 21 French galleys approached St Andrews under the command of Leone Strozzi, prior of Capua. The French besieged the castle and forced the surrender of the garrison on July 31. The Protestant nobles and others, including Knox, were taken prisoner and forced to row in the French galleys.
In February 1549, after spending a total of 19 months in the galley-prison, Knox was released. It is uncertain how he obtained his liberty. Later in the year, Henry II arranged with Edward VI of England the release of all remaining Castilian prisoners.
Exile in England Edit
On his release, Knox took refuge in England. The Reformation in England was a less radical movement than its Continental counterparts, but there was a definite breach with Rome. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer, and the regent of King Edward VI, the Duke of Somerset, were decidedly Protestant-minded. However, much work remained to bring reformed ideas to the clergy and to the people. On April 7, 1549, Knox was licensed to work in the Church of England. His first commission was in Berwick-upon-Tweed.
In the pulpit he preached Protestant doctrines with great effect as his congregation grew.
Serving the King of England Edit
Towards the end of 1550, Knox was appointed a preacher of St Nicholas' Church in Newcastle upon Tyne. The following year he was appointed one of the six royal chaplains serving the King. On October 16, 1551, John Dudley, 1st Duke of Northumberland, overthrew the Duke of Somerset to become the new regent of the young King. Knox condemned the coup d'état in a sermon on All Saints Day. When Dudley visited Newcastle and listened to his preaching in June 1552, he had mixed feelings about the fire-brand preacher, but he saw Knox as a potential asset. Knox was asked to come to London to preach before the Court. In his first sermon, he advocated a change for the second edition of the Book of Common Prayer. The liturgy required worshipers to kneel during communion. Knox and the other chaplains considered this to be idolatry.
Soon afterwards, Dudley, who saw Knox as a useful political tool, offered him the bishopric of Rochester. Knox refused, and he returned to Newcastle. On February 2, 1553 Cranmer was ordered to appoint Knox as vicar of Allhallows Church in London placing him under the authority of the Bishop of London, Nicholas Ridley. Knox returned to London in order to deliver a sermon before the King and the Court during Lent and he again refused to take the assigned post. Knox was then told to preach in Buckinghamshire and he remained there until Edward's death on July 6. Edward's successor, Mary Tudor, re-established Roman Catholicism in England and restored the Mass in all the churches. With the country no longer safe for Protestant preachers, Knox left for the Continent in January 1554 on the advice of friends.
Prejudice against women Edit
In the summer of 1558, Knox published his best known pamphlet, The first blast of the trumpet against the monstrous regiment of women. In calling the "regiment" or rule of women "monstrous", he meant that it was "unnatural". Knox states that his purpose was to demonstrate "how abominable before God is the Empire or Rule of a wicked woman, yea, of a traiteresse and bastard". The women rulers that Knox had in mind were Queen Mary I of England and Mary of Guise, the Dowager Queen of Scotland and regent on behalf of her daughter, Mary, Queen of Scotland
Knox's prejudices against women were not unusual in his day; however, even he was aware that the pamphlet was dangerously seditious. He therefore published it anonymously and did not tell Calvin, who denied knowledge of it until a year after its publication, that he had written it. In England, the pamphlet was officially condemned by royal proclamation. The impact of the document was complicated later that year, when Elizabeth Tudor became Queen of England. Although Knox had not targeted Elizabeth, he had deeply offended her, and she never forgave him.
With a Protestant on the throne, the English refugees in Geneva prepared to return home. Knox himself decided to return to Scotland. Before his departure, various honors were conferred on him, including the freedom of the city of Geneva. Knox left in January 1559, but he did not arrive in Scotland until May 2, 1559, owing to Elizabeth's refusal to issue him a passport through England.
Revolution in Scotland Edit
Two days after Knox arrived in Edinburgh, he proceeded to Dundee where a large number of Protestant sympathizers had gathered. Knox was declared an outlaw, and the Queen Regent summoned the Protestants to Stirling. Fearing the possibility of a summary trial and execution, the Protestants proceeded instead to Perth, a walled town that could be defended in case of a siege. At the church of St John the Baptist, Knox preached a fiery sermon and a small incident precipitated into a riot. A mob poured into the church and it was soon gutted.
Marie de Guise gathered those nobles loyal to her and a small French army. She dispatched the Earl of Argyll and Lord Moray to offer terms and avert a war. She promised not to send any French troops into Perth if the Protestants evacuated the town. The Protestants agreed, but when the Queen Regent entered Perth, she garrisoned it with Scottish soldiers on the French pay roll. This was seen as treacherous by Lord Argyll and Lord Moray, who both switched sides and joined Knox, who now based himself in St Andrews.
With Protestant reinforcements arriving from neighboring counties, the Queen Regent retreated to Dunbar. By now, the mob fury had spilled over central Scotland. Her own troops were on the verge of mutiny. On June 30, the Protestant Lords of the Congregation occupied Edinburgh, though they were able to hold it for only a month. But even before their arrival, the mob had already sacked the churches and the friaries. On July 1, Knox preached from the pulpit of St Giles', the most influential in the capital. The Lords of the Congregation negotiated their withdrawal from Edinburgh by the Articles of Leith signed July 25, 1559, and Mary of Guise promised freedom of conscience.
Knox knew that the Queen Regent would ask for help from France. So he negotiated by letter under the assumed name John Sinclair with William Cecil, Elizabeth's chief adviser, for English support. Knox sailed secretly to Lindisfarne, off the northeast coast of England at the end of July, to meet James Croft and Sir Henry Percy at Berwick upon Tweed. Knox was indiscreet and news of his mission soon reached Mary of Guise. He returned to Edinburgh telling Croft he had to return to his flock, and suggested that Henry Balnaves should go to Cecil.
When additional French troops arrived in Leith, Edinburgh's seaport, the Protestants responded by retaking Edinburgh. This time, on 24 October 1559, the Scottish nobility formally deposed Mary of Guise from the regency. Her secretary, William Maitland of Lethington, defected to the Protestant side, bringing his administrative skills. From then on, Maitland took over the political tasks, freeing Knox for the role of religious leader. For the final stage of the revolution, Maitland appealed to Scottish patriotism to fight French domination. Following the Treaty of Berwick, support from England finally arrived and by the end of March, a significant English army joined the Scottish Protestant forces.
The sudden death of Marie de Guise from dropsy in Edinburgh Castle on June 10, 1560 paved the way for an end to hostilities, the signing of the Treaty of Edinburgh, and the withdrawal of French and English troops from Scotland. On July 19, Knox held a National Thanksgiving Service at St Giles'.
John Knox and Queen Mary Edit
On August 19, 1561, cannons were fired in Leith to announce Queen Mary's arrival in Scotland. When she attended Mass being celebrated in the royal chapel at Holyrood Palace five days later, this prompted a protest in which one of her servants was jostled. The next day she issued a proclamation that there would be no alteration in the current state of religion and that her servants should not be molested or troubled. Many nobles accepted this, but not Knox. The following Sunday, he protested from the pulpit of St Giles'. As a result, just two weeks after her return, Mary summoned Knox. She accused him of inciting a rebellion against her mother and of writing a book against her own authority.
The most dramatic interview between Mary and Knox took place on June 24, 1563. Mary summoned Knox to Holyrood after hearing that he had been preaching against her proposed marriage to Don Carlos, the son of Philip II of Spain. Mary began by scolding Knox, then she burst into tears.
Knox's final encounter with Mary was prompted by an incident at Holyrood. While Mary was absent from Edinburgh on her summer progress in 1563, a crowd forced its way into her private chapel as Mass was being celebrated. During the altercation, the priest's life was threatened. As a result, two of the ringleaders, burgesses of Edinburgh, were scheduled for trial on October 24, 1563. In order to defend these men, Knox sent out letters calling the nobles to convene. Mary obtained one of these letters and asked her advisers if this was not a treasonable act. Stewart and Maitland, wanting to keep good relations with both the Kirk and the Queen, asked Knox to admit he was wrong and to settle the matter quietly. Knox refused and he defended himself in front of Mary and the Privy Council. He argued that he had called a legal, not an illegal, assembly as part of his duties as a minister of the Kirk. After he left, the Councillors voted not to charge him with treason.
Love & Family Life Edit
While in England, Knox met his wife, Margery Bowes (died c.1560). Her father, Richard Bowes (d.1558), was a descendant of an old Durham family and her mother, Elizabeth Aske, was an heiress of a Yorkshire family, the Askes of Richmondshire. Elizabeth Bowes presumably met Knox when he was employed in Berwick. Several letters reveal a close friendship between them. It is not recorded when Knox married Margery Bowes. Knox attempted to obtain the consent of the Bowes family, but her father and her brother Robert Bowes were opposed to the marriage.
On March 26, 1564 Knox stirred controversy again, when he married his second wife: Margaret Stewart, the daughter of an old friend, Andrew Stewart, 2nd Lord Ochiltree, a member of the Stuart family and a distant relative of the Queen, Mary Stuart. The marriage was unusual because he was a widower of fifty, while the bride was only seventeen. Very few details are known of their domestic life. They had three daughters, Martha, Margaret, and Elizabeth.
Final Years & Death Edit
On July 29, 1565 when Mary married Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley, some of the Protestant nobles, including James Stewart, 1st Earl of Moray, rose up in rebellion. Knox revealed his own objection while preaching in the presence of the new King Consort on August 19, 1565. He made passing allusions on ungodly rulers which caused Darnley to walk out. Knox was summoned and prohibited from preaching while the court was in Edinburgh.
On March 9, 1566, Mary's secretary, David Rizzio, was murdered by conspirators loyal to Darnley. Mary escaped from Edinburgh to Dunbar and by March 18 returned with a formidable force. Knox fled to Kyle in Ayrshire, where he completed the major part of his magnum opus, History of the Reformation in Scotland. When he returned to Edinburgh, he found the Protestant nobles divided over what to do with Mary. Lord Darnley had been murdered and the Queen almost immediately married the chief suspect, the Earl of Bothwell.
The indictment of murder thus upon her, she had been forced to abdicate and was imprisoned in Loch Leven Castle. Lord Moray had become the regent of his nephew King James VI. Other old friends of Knox's, Lord Argyll and William Kirkcaldy, stood by Mary. On July 29, 1567, Knox preached James VI's coronation sermon at the church in Stirling. During this period Knox thundered against her in his sermons, even to the point of calling for her death. However, Mary's life was spared, and she escaped on May 2, 1568
The fighting in Scotland continued as a civil war. Lord Moray was assassinated on January 23, 1570. The regent who succeeded him, the Earl of Lennox, was also a victim of violence. On April 30, 1571, the controller of Edinburgh Castle, Kirkcaldy of Grange, ordered all enemies of the Queen to leave the city. But for Knox, his former friend and fellow galley-slave, he made an exception. If Knox did not leave, he could stay in Edinburgh, but only if he remained captive in the castle. Knox chose to leave, and on May 5 he left for St Andrews. He continued to preach, spoke to students, and worked on his History. At the end of July 1572, after a truce was called, he returned to Edinburgh. Although by this time exceedingly feeble and his voice faint, he continued to preach at St Giles'.
After inducting his successor, Lawson of Aberdeen, as minister of St Giles' on 9 November, Knox returned to his home for the last time. With his friends and some of the greatest Scottish nobles around him, he asked for the Bible to be read aloud.
On his last day, November 24, 1572, his young wife read from Paul's first letter to the Corinthians. A testimony to Knox was pronounced at his grave in the churchyard of St Giles' by James Douglas, 4th Earl of Morton and newly elected regent of Scotland: "Here lies one who never feared any flesh".