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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

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

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

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