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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'

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

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


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

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

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Online LibraryAndrew LangJohn Knox and the Reformation → online text (page 3 of 20)