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John Knox, A Biography
Chapter XI - The Revolution Begins


KNOX'S arrival in Edinburgh (2nd of May 1559) was the signal for renewed activity on both sides. The Queen Regent was in Glasgow, and on the third day after his arrival she ordered him to be "blown loud to the horn." It will be remembered that after his departure in 1556 he was excommunicated and burned in effigy, and outlawry was involved in the sentence then passed. He remained only two nights in Edinburgh, for hearing that the brethren had assembled in force in Dundee he hastened to join them. "I am come," he writes to his friend Mrs. Locke, "I am come, I praise God even in the brunt of the battle, if God impede not I shall present myself" before the Queen and Council, "there by life, by death, or else by both, to glorify His godly name who thus mercifully hath heard my long cries."

The Protestants who had assembled at Dundee were incensed by the preachers being summoned to appear before the Queen Regent at Stirling on the 10th of May, and they determined to march in a body on Perth, Knox accompanying them. It being their object to avoid every sign of rebellion, they sent Erskine of Dun to lay their demands before the Regent. She promised to delay the summons, but almost immediately afterwards she broke her promise and proclaimed the preachers as outlaws. "The multitude," says Knox, "on learning this was so inflamed that neither could the exhortation of the preacher nor the commandment of the magistrate stay them from destroying of the places of idolatry."

We here touch on a question that has been much and even hotly debated: Whether the Protestant preachers, and notably Knox, were responsible for the destruction of the numerous rich and beautiful Religious Houses that then adorned Scotland? One fact at least is clear, that the beginning of the iconoclastic work was due to the perfidy of the Queen Regent, whose breach of faith in the case of the preachers incited the populace to their task of destruction. Still there can be no denying the fact that Knox, and those who thought with him, preached against image worship of every kind, and he himself states that immediately before the first considerable attack on the Religious Houses of Scotland was made, he had from the pulpit been stirring up the people against idolatry of all sorts. Indeed, it would seem that the very next day after the preachers were outlawed he himself delivered a vehement discourse against idolatry. At its close a priest, in contempt, attempted to celebrate the Mass. Among the audience was a young boy who rebuked the priest for thus violating the Word of God. The latter 44 struck the child a great blow, who in anger took up a stone, and casting at the priest did hit the tabernacle and broke down an image, and immediately the whole multitude that was about cast stones and put hands to the same tabernacle and to all other monuments of idolatry." That was the beginning of a general attack on the Religious Houses of Perth, and the "rascal multitude," as Knox calls them, rejoicing in the opportunity for riot which the occasion gave them, very soon demolished the three most notable ecclesiastical buildings in the city, including the Charter House, an edifice of "wondrous cost and greatness"; so thorough was the work of destruction that only the walls remained of these glorious buildings. This was the beginning of trouble, and all over the country sacred edifices that had been erected at great labour and much expense shared the same fate as those of Perth.

It should not be forgotten that years before this Hertford and his English army laid waste the Abbeys of the South of Scotland, and even previous to the arrival of Knox we learn of tumults in which the ecclesiastical buildings of the country suffered. Kirkcaldy of Grange, whose testimony on all matters is that of a plain, blunt soldier, states, in writing to Percy, what would seem to have been the policy of the Reformers with regard to this matter. "The manner of their proceedings," he says, "is this: They pull down all manner of Priories and Abbeys which willingly receive not their Reformation; as to Parish Churches, they cleanse them of images and all other monuments of idolatry." This policy, severe enough, is not so drastic as many would have us to believe. Parish Churches were to be left intact, their vain adornments being swept away; and all the great Religious Houses were to remain untouched, except where the holders of them defied the rising authority.

Now, considering Knox's conception of the new movement, which was Church Reform, we cannot see very well how he could have done otherwise. His protest, as we have seen, was against the worship of the Romish Church, that worship being contrary to the purity of Scriptural teaching, and consequently, in his eyes, idolatry. If the work to which he had put his hand, and for which he had suffered greatly, risking fearlessly for its sake life and limb, was to be accomplished, it could only be by ridding the Parish Churches and great Religious Houses of all that in his eye defiled or made a lie. We are aware that on more than one occasion he did his very best to restrain the mob from ruthlessly tearing down edifices that he would have spared, but, as everyone knows, when the passion for destruction seizes the lower orders there is no withholding them, and the excesses which they indulged in were but a repetition of the acts of destruction which characterised the movement in France, Switzerland, and Holland. There are few who do not regret the vandalism of the period. There was then destroyed what can never be replaced; but it may be better after all that these great edifices, with all their aesthetic beauty, should be but desolate ruins, than that the purity of worship which we now enjoy should, for their sakes, have been sacrificed.

The Queen was so enraged at the conduct of the Protestants in Perth that she vowed "utterly to destroy Saint Johnstone, man, woman, and child, and to consume the same by fire, and thereafter to salt it in sign of a perpetual desolation." It was the aim of the Protestant party to avoid every appearance of rebellion; they were anxious to carry through their reforms by constitutional means if possible, and have recourse to arms only as a last resort. They accordingly at this juncture issued four Manifestoes, in which we clearly see the hand of Knox. The Reformer on this occasion, as indeed at every critical moment in the history of the Reformation, stood out as the one man of light and leading. He saw the significance of the hour, and directed the fortunes of his party. In these Manifestoes he stated the case of the Congregation, and disabused the minds of his countrymen of misrepresentations regarding their intentions; for the Queen Regent had been busy poisoning all whom it might concern, hinting that it was Rebellion, and not Reformation, that they were contemplating.

The first of these Manifestoes is addressed to the "Queen's Grace Regent," and it roundly states that "unless this cruelty be stayed by your wisdom we will be condemned to take the sword of just defence against all that shall pursue us for the matter of religion, and for our conscience' sake," and hints that in her present course of conduct she was not acting in conformity with the wishes of the young Queen of Scots and her husband the Dauphin. The second, which was addressed to "D'Oysel and the Frenchmen in her Service," indicates that unless they cease taking part in the present • persecution a feud would be created between France and Scotland that would "last as long as Scotchmen should have power to revenge such cruelty." In the third of these addresses, the one to the "Nobility of Scotland," Knox calls upon them to rise to the height of their great responsibilities, and threatens them with excommunication if they fail to obey his summons. " Unless ye join yourselves with us," he says, "as of God ye are reputed traitors, so shall ye be excommunicated from our society; the glory of the victory which God shall give to His Church, yea, even in the eyes of Men, shall not appertain to you." The last was addressed to the "Generation of Anti-Christ, the Pestilent Prelates and their Shavelings within Scotland," and he warns them that unless they "cease betimes from their blind rage they shall be entreated as murderers and open enemies to God."

These letters found their way, as was intended, all over Scotland. The one addressed to the Nobility fell into the hands of the Earl of Glencairn, among others, and he was so stirred by it that he declared: "Let every man serve his conscience, I will by God's grace see my brethren in St. Johnstone, yea, albeit never a man should accompany me I will go, and if it were but with a pike upon my shoulder, for I would rather die with that company than live afterwards." The Earl's boast was no vain one, for he immediately rallied round him the sturdy Protestants of Ayrshire and the West, and to the number of two thousand they made a rapid march through "desert and mountain" to the relief of their brethren at Perth. This quickened the conciliatory mood of the Queen Regent, for she sent Representatives to the Lords of the Congregation to learn their demands. Knox and his friends declared that they were not aiming at rebellion, but simply desiring freedom to worship God according to their consciences. The following were the terms which the Protestants were prepared to accept: They would leave the town on condition that all who were of their party should be allowed perfect freedom of worship, and that no French garrison should be quartered on the citizens. These terms being accepted, the Protestants were allowed to leave Perth with a free pardon. Of the three Commissioners who represented the Queen on this occasion, two were Argyle and the Lord James. Knox rebuked them sharply for their defection, and they solemnly promised that if the Regent broke her pledges they would instantly desert her and throw in their lot with the Protestant party.

It was not long before the opportunity presented itself for fulfilling this promise. On the 29th of May, the date fixed for the occupation of Perth by the Queen Regent, the Protestants entered into another bond, the chief note of which was that they pledged themselves to put down all idolatry. Thereafter the majority of them journeyed to St. Andrews, and on the march they carried out, too literally perhaps, the agreement which they had come to; for different churches on the route bore witness afterwards to their zeal for purity, among them being those of Crail and Anstruther, in which Knox preached.

The Queen Regent, almost on the very day on which she entered Perth, broke her pledges by quartering Scottish soldiers in the pay of France on the citizens, by restoring the old religion, and by her cruel treatment of the Protestants. Many of the Nobility and others, among whom were Argyle and the Lord James, immediately left her and joined Knox and the body of Protestants who had already arrived at St. Andrews.

In St. Andrews, as in Perth, Knox acted the leading part. It was his intention, he says, to preach in the famous Cathedral City on Sunday the 4th of June. On coming to this understanding with himself he could not be aware of the determined effort that was to be made to prevent him. That effort, as we shall see, proved futile; and Knox's purpose was

carried out. We can imagine his feelings on visiting St. Andrews, for the first time, since his forced embarkation as a prisoner in the French galleys. He had undergone much suffering since then, had seen many lands, and taken a leading part wherever he went in advocating by word and pen the doctrines of the Reformed religion. But he never during all his wanderings forgot his native country, and he must have felt exultant at the mere hope of fulfilling the vow which he had made to his friend James Balfour, when, as a prisoner, he came within sight, in the French fleet, of the steeple of the parish church in which God publicly opened his mouth as a preacher—that he would in that same church witness again before he died to the grace and glory of God.

Archbishop Hamilton, who was at Falkland, hastened to St. Andrews with three hundred armed men to prevent Knox from discharging this vow, for he well knew the Reformer's power, and was afraid that if he were allowed to preach to the citizens of St. Andrews it would go hard with the old Church. Indeed the Archbishop threatened that in case "John Knox presented himself to the preaching place, in his town and principal Church, he should make him be saluted with a dozen of culverins whereof the most part would light upon his nose." The Reformer's friends were intimidated by this threat, for they were not in great force in the city; but Knox would listen to no half-hearted counsels, and, brushing aside their scruples and fears, he kept his word and preached a sermon on "the ejection of the buyers and sellers from the Temple." The result of this discourse was similar to that of those preached in other churches, for "the Magistrates, the Provost and Bailies, as the commonalty, for the most part within the town, did agree to remove all monuments of idolatry, which also they did with expedition." St. Andrews, when Knox entered it, was not altogether whole-hearted for the Reformation, but before he left the majority of its citizens sided with him; and some years later, when he had to leave Edinburgh, his life being in danger, he found friendly shelter within its walls. Argyle and the Lord James, who now joined the Protestants in St. Andrews, were accompanied by a considerable following; others joined them, and their numbers became so great that Knox is forced to exclaim that it appeared "as men had rained from the clouds."

The Regent, with her forces led by the Duke of Chatelherault and D'Oysel, marched on St. Andrews. The Lords of the Congregation went out to meet them. Neither side was eager for battle. Indeed, one of the remarkable features of the whole Revolution was the disinclination of both parties to shed blood. The forces that opposed each other were pretty equally matched, so far as numbers were concerned, and what those of the Protestants lacked in discipline was more than made up in enthusiasm and loyalty. The Regent could not depend upon her army, for many of her soldiers favoured the new religion. Both sides accordingly courted delay, and a truce of eight days was agreed upon in the hope that terms might in the interval be arranged.

It wap. at this juncture that Knox made a proposal for soliciting the aid of England. He himself tells us that the matter was first discussed in a private conversation between him and Kirkcaldy of Grange. These two had been early brought together, and although their paths had diverged, and would diverge again, they ever continued to have a sincere regard for each other. They, probably, of all who took part in the rising had least to gain from its success, and the unselfishness of their motives could not fail to be perceived by all their associates. They had nothing of that local patriotism which distorted the vision of most Scottish politicians. They were not possessed by an irrational suspicion or dread of England; they both saw that only by an understanding with that country could success be attained; for Kirkcaldy, as a soldier and general, must have been impressed by the military weakness of the Protestant party, and Knox looked forward to the union of the two countries as his chief hope of their salvation from the tyranny and superstition of the Romish Church, and the progress and establishment of the true religion. Knox, besides, from his long residence in England, the important posts he held there, his intimate knowledge of its political tendencies and acquaintance with its chief men, was especially fitted to pave the way for such a union.

In this conversation Knox "after many words burst forth, "If England would foresee their own commodity they would not suffer us to perish in this quarrel." He was also convinced that "if the hearts of the Borderers of both parts can be united together in God's fear our victory shall then be easy." Indeed it was to unite the hearts of these same Borderers that he craved permission when at Dieppe to pass through England on his way to Scotland. He subsequently wrote to Cecil: "My eye hath long looked to a perpetual concord betwixt these two realms." At a later date this same policy is seen in his desire to see Queen Elizabeth married to the Earl of Arran, the next heir to the Scottish throne. Knox's visions were those of a true patriot and farseeing statesman as well as of a Religious Reformer. He did not live to see the fulfilment of his dream, which was reserved for a later day; but he paved the way for, and took the first step in, that union of the two Nations which is now the joy and strength of both.


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