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John Knox, A Biography
Chapter XVI - The Rulers of the Court


SEVERAL events now happened in quick succession which must have confirmed Knox in his fears that the Protestant Lords, even the Lord James himself, would yield to the influence of the Queen, and possibly endanger beyond recall the prospects of the Reformed religion. On the 21st of September the Magistrates of Edinburgh commanded the statutes of the town to be publicly read. These included the banishment from the city of all Papists. On hearing this Mary committed the Provost and Bailies to the Tolbooth, and commanded the election of other men in their place. Again on the 1st of November, "All Saints Day," there were great Popish ongoings at Holyrood, and a conference took place at the Clerk Register's house between the Protestant Lords and the leading ministers regarding Mary's right to hold such celebrations. It was agreed to appeal to Calvin; but this was only to gain time, and in the meantime Mary, through her Council, carried her point.

In December, at the third Meeting of the General Assembly, further attempts were made by those whom Knox called the " Rulers of the Court" to subject the Church and the new religion to the authority of the Queen. It had been the custom of all who were members of the Assembly to meet together, but on this occasion the Lords refused on the ground that the ministers had secret conferences with the other members of the Assembly. This was denied. But the real purpose of the Lords was to destroy the freedom of the Church, for through Lethington, who acted as their spokesman, they denied that the Church had any right to hold Assemblies without the sanction of the Queen. This was aiming a blow at the liberty of the Church which would be fatal, and Knox resisted it with all his power. "If the liberty of the Church," he contended, "should stand upon the Queen's allowance or disallowance, we are assured not only to lack Assemblies, but also to lack the public preaching of the Evangel." It was agreed to permit a representative of the Queen to be present at their deliberations if she so desired.

The attitude of the Rulers of the Court to the Book of Discipline, which then came up for discussion, was a fresh indication that the "holy water of the Court" was doing its work. Those who, little more than a year ago, had willingly signed it, declaring that they "would set the same forward to the uttermost of their powers," now publicly disowned it. "Some even began to deny that ever they knew such a thing as the Book of Discipline." The fact is the nobles were beginning to enjoy the fruits of their robbery of the ancient Church, the lands which they had grabbed they found to be very pleasant, and they were eagerly looking forward to fresh seizures. That explains the change in their attitude. Some provision must, however, be made for the Protestant clergy, who up to this time had received nothing, or had been supported by the "benevolence of men." The Lords were nothing loth to come to some arrangement, for they saw the chance of gifting a portion of the Church's patrimony to the Queen. The Crown had no claim on the Church lands, but still the opportunity was too good to miss; so two-thirds of the patrimony of the Church was to remain in the hands of the Catholic clergy, or, in other words, of the greedy aristocracy who had appropriated it, and the remaining third was to be divided between the Queen and the ministers.

Knox made this unholy division the subject of his Sunday's sermon, in the course of which he said, "Well, if the end of this order pretended to be taken for sustentation of the ministers, be happy, my judgment faileth me, for I am assured that the Spirit of God is not the author of it, for first I see two parts freely given to the Devil, and a third must be divided betwixt God and the Devil. Well, bear witness to me that this day I say it, or it be long the Devil shall have three parts of the third, and judge you then what part God's portion shall be."

Knox made no secret of his belief that the Protestant Lords, particularly Maitland of Lethington and the Lord James, were largely responsible for the Queen's policy at this time. He was practically deserted by his former friends who had worked with him in establishing the new Religion; but he lost no jot of hope or heart, and by every means in his power, chiefly by his sermons in St. Giles' and his influence in the country, he tried to counteract their efforts. An opportunity occurred at this time, of which he readily took advantage, for strengthening his own party and weakening, as a consequence, those who were now working against him.

The Earl of Bothwell, who had a long-standing feud against the Earl of Arraii, sought Knox's counsel for the purpose of bringing about a reconciliation. The Earl visited Knox in the latter's study in his house at the Netherbow, and it was during the conversation that then took place that the Reformer mentions the old feudal relation that existed between his family and the House of Bothwell. Knox's efforts were crowned with success, and Arran and Bothwell, ostensibly at least, became friends. In the union of these two men, Protestants both, and of their families and partisans, Knox perceived an influence that might hold in check the policy of the Protestant Lords and Queen Mary. A short time afterwards he endeavoured to make that influence all the stronger by arranging an interview at a supper-party in his own house on a Sunday between Arran's father and Randolph, Elizabeth's representative at the Scottish Court. The aim of Knox's diplomacy was to bind together the leading Protestants in the country, or as many of them as were not affected by the "holy water of the Court," and to join them in turn in a friendly union with England. This diplomacy was of course based upon the Protestant religion. It was a single-minded and strong policy, for it was founded upon the abiding element in man's nature. Knox's hopes, so far as Arran was concerned, were doomed to disappointment, for that young man speedily quarrelled with Bothwell, accusing him at the same time of treason. It soon became clear that Arran's mind was deranged, and from that moment he became a negligible quantity in Scottish politics.

Knox had a more formidable weapon in his armoury which he now used. The General Assembly was not, at that time, the strong body which it afterwards became, but it represented the best minds and the purest spirit in the country. It also had law on its side in its contendings, and the Rulers of the Court knew that in resisting its demands, which had been sanctioned by the Parliament of 1560, they were acting illegally. This Assembly met on the 29th of June 1562, and it prepared an address to the Queen in which we clearly see the hand of Knox. Its chief demand Was that the Book of Discipline should be made law. To yield this point would be for the Court and its advisers to give up everything that the Church was contending for. It would mean the final abolition of the Romish Church, and the establishing of the Reformed Church on such a basis as would enable Knox and his party to resist with success the policy of the Court, and the ambition of Mary to reinstate the Romish religion in its old position in the land. Lethington objected to the wording of this address. He did not think it respectful in tone nor commendable in expression, and he suggested that it should be revised before being presented to Queen Mary. He had his way, and toned it down by his "painted oratory," as Knox terms it, to such a degree as raised the suspicions of the Queen. "Here," she exclaimed, "are many fair words, I cannot tell what the hearts are." Lethington now, as always, was sitting on the fence and riding for a fall. He tried to please both parties, and he satisfied neither. Distrusted by Knox, he was suspected by Mary.

Shortly after this, on the 11th of August, the Queen left Edinburgh for the north. Knox, ever on the outlook, suspected that some scheme iiiimical to his cause underlay the journey. She intended to go as far north as Aberdeenshire, and there was the seat of the Earl of Huntly, whom Knox regarded as the strongest peer in the country. "Under a prince," he says, "there was not such a one these three hundred years in the realm produced." He was a pronounced Roman Catholic, and Knox was afraid lest Mary intended to join forces with him and attempt a Catholic rising.

The signs were not unfavourable for such a movement. The Huguenots in France were suffering at the hands of the Catholics. The Guises were again in the ascendant, and steps were being taken for that great union of the Catholic princes and kingdoms which was to realise the dream of Mary's heart—sovereignty over England. Knox accordingly left Edinburgh soon after the departure of the Queen, and journeyed to Kyle and Galloway, where the Protestant cause was the strongest. His efforts were very successful, for he rallied together the leading supporters of the new religion, and induced them to sign a bond for the defence of their faith. He had also an interview with the Master of Maxwell, the Keeper of the West Marches, who in turn communicated with the Earl of Bothwell, all for the purpose of keeping a watchful eye on the Queen's movements and for the preservation of the peace.

Knox's object was to prevent at this stage any conflict between the two parties, and he was determined not to be tempted by any movement which might be made by his opponents. His labours in the west and south were: relieved by a lively dispute with the Abbot of Crossraguel. The discussion took place in the Provost's house at Maybole. It lasted for three days, from eight in the morning till the evening. The debate was entered on with every formality. There were present the Earl of Casillis and forty others, twenty being friends of either disputant, notaries who reported the proceedings, and as many others as the house could hold. Knox afterwards published the discussion, which does not throw much fresh light on the subjects under dispute. The one result of it was the Abbot's giving himself away by grounding the Mass on the sacrifice and oblation of Melchizedek. Knox had no difficulty in proving that to base the Lord's Supper on so weak a foundation, or to see any real relation between the two, was a reductio ad absurdum.

Knox must have been agreeably surprised by the course of events in the north. Huntly, in place of joining forces, joined issues with the Queen and was defeated. It is suggested that this result, instead of pleasing, displeased the Queen, for the great Earl's defeat took place at the hands of the Lord James, who now became the Earl of Moray. It is hinted that Mary would have been more gratified if the other side had proved victorious, and that as events turned out her policy miscarried. There may be something in this, for she only tolerated, but never trusted, Moray, Lethington, and the other Protestant Lords. She used them because she could not do without them. The time was not yet ripe for dispensing with their counsels, but she was evidently just waiting her opportunity for their dismissal.

Matters before very long were brought to a crisis between Knox and the two men who were the leaders of the Court policy. These were Moray and Lethington. Knox and the former had continued since their first acquaintance to be on good terms with each other, and latterly when the Lord James threw in his lot with the Reforming party they became fast friends. There was no Scotsman of the time for whom Knox had a greater regard, and he looked upon him as the political hope of the cause which he had so close at heart. He viewed with distrust and disappointment the course which his young friend was following, but he had not by any means lost hope that he would fulfil his early promise. Even so late as February of 1562, at the marriage of Moray to the Earl Marischal's daughter in St. Giles', Knox, who performed the ceremony, when addressing the newly married pair hinted that if the bridegroom fell away it would be his wife's fault. "Unto this day," said the preacher, "the Church hath received comfort of you, iii the which if hereafter you shall be found fainter it will be said that your wife hath changed your nature." It was about a year afterwards, in May of 1563, that the rupture which lasted for a year and a half took place between the friends.

Mary, since her arrival, had never summoned a meeting of Parliament. She was afraid lest the demand of the Protestants might be conceded, or that, if she resisted, a civil war would ensue. The Protestant Lords, again, were well aware that Knox and his followers would insist for one thing on the ratification of the Book of Discipline, and other matters which they knew the Queen would never agree to. But a meeting of Parliament could not very well be delayed much longer, and the question was, How to have it and at the same time avoid granting the demands that would be put forward on behalf of the Reformed Church? The zeal of the Protestants had cooled considerably since the arrival of the Queen, still, should the attendance be at all equal to that of the Parliament of 1560, when so many of the smaller barons, lairds, and representatives of burghs were present, a majority might be found against the Court and its policy.

How to prevent the attendance of these men was the problem that now occupied the attention of the Rulers of the Court; nor was it absent from the mind of Mary. She accordingly played a card which indicated an intention so strongly in favour of the Protestant religion that the fears of its strongest advocates were allayed; and thinking that all would go well with their claims at the approaching meeting of Parliament, many of them absented themselves.

The law that had been passed against Catholics had about this time been put in force by the Protestants themselves, and Mary made herself its champion. Forty-eight persons who had defied the law against the celebration of the Mass, among whom was Hamilton, the Archbishop of St. Andrews, himself, were tried before the Court of Justiciary on the 19th of May, and the majority of them were committed to ward. This surely was a certain sign that the Queen was conciliating the Protestants, and that in the Parliament which was about to meet she would sanction the whole policy of the Church. Knox, however, was not deceived. He saw clearly the intention of the Queen and Court, and lie was both disappointed with, and indignant at, the lukewarmness of his friends in not attending and supporting by their voice and vote the just demands of the Church.

Parliament was opened by the Queen on the 26th of May with great ceremony. She was at this time at the very height of her popularity. She had so far committed no fatal blunder, and hardly any indiscretion. She had, at any rate, done nothing to raise the suspicion and distrust of the bulk of the people. She was received by the populace with cheers and with cries, "God bless her sweet face!" and when she addressed her Parliament one said to another, "This is the voice of a goddess and not of a woman." All this was very displeasing to Knox. His mind was bent on other and more serious things, and he flung out at the weakness and vanity of the sex, their light-headedness as well as lightheartedness. He could not foresee that other day, only three years hence, when poor Mary would be seen riding down the same street in tattered garments amid the jeers and derision of the citizens.

The great question for Knox was, Would the Book of Discipline be accepted or not? He was told to be patient, that this was not the time to bring it forward. "Wait till the Queen's marriage, which cannot be very far distant, when she will be asking favours at our hands; that will be the time to press your cause. In order to have her own petitions granted she will be ready to accede to yours."

Parliament accordingly would have nothing to do with the Book of Discipline, and Knox turned at once upon the man whom he trusted to see the thing carried through. That man was the Earl of Moray. Knox felt his disappointment bitterly. "The matter fell so hot," he says, "betwixt the Earl of Moray and some others of the Court and John Knox, that familiarly after that time they spoke not together more than a year and a half, for the said John by his letter gave a discharge to the said Earl of all further intromission or care with his affairs." Thus it was Knox who formally broke with Moray. "Seeing that I perceive myself frustrate of my expectation, which was that you should ever have preferred God to your own affection, and the advancement of His truth to your singular commodity, I commit you to your own wit and to the conducting of those who better can please you. If after this ye shall decay (as I fear ye shall), call to mind by what means God exalted you."

Moray, next to Knox, had the sanest mind of any Scottish politician of the time. He no doubt sincerely believed that the path which he was following would lead to a mutual understanding and agreement between the Queen and the Congregation. He wished to be loyal to both, but his outlook was not so large as Knox's; he did not know so well the trend of European politics or fully appreciate the policy of the great Catholic States and party. Knox was convinced that it was only by making a firm stand that Protestantism would flourish, and that no concession or conciliation would gain the Queen to their side. As events turned out he was found to be right, and Moray for a time suffered dearly for refusing to follow the guidance of his older and wiser friend. Had the Protestant Lords followed the advice of Knox, and insisted, when the Queen set foot in Scotland, on making her conform to the new religion or abdicate, it would have been much better both for Mary herself and for the country. But the weak policy of insincere compromise could have only one end.

It was not long after this that Knox and Lethington, the second of the two men who ruled the Court, came to close quarters. These two had frequently engaged in intellectual bouts, from the time when in Erskine of Dun's house in Edinburgh, at that famous supper-party when the question as to whether the Mass might be said in private was debated, until June of 1564, when the same two discussed at very great length certain other questions which went to the root of religious belief and civil government. Lethington was a child of the Renaissance. He may have been an anti-Romanist by conviction, but he had no enthusiasm for religion. He probably believed that the Reformed Church was better than the Romish, but he had no fancy for Creeds and Confessions, and was not at all inclined to put himself into the bonds of theological dogmas and formulas. He was a man of the world, and was quite prepared to use any Church or man as a pawn in the game of politics. Knox was, of course, a man of a very different build. He belonged to the prophetical order, was governed by strong convictions, and, in obedience to what he accepted as divine commands, he was prepared at all times to do and dare iii the cause of righteousness and truth. His patriotism, too, was equal to Lethington's own, which was perhaps the most redeeming feature in the latter's character, and in fighting for his convictions he believed that he was contending for the best interests of his country.

The distrust of the Lords and Congregation in each other was steadily growing, and a final breach could not be long delayed. This happened at the Assembly of 1564, when the courtiers refused to attend. Nor would they consent to be present until a conference had taken place between them and certain of the leading ministers regarding matters that required clearing up. This was agreed to on condition that nothing final should be arranged until the matters under dispute were voted on by the Assembly. At the Conference the discussion, as usual, ranged itself into a contest between Lethington and Knox. The first point raised referred to a clause in Knox's prayer for the Queen, which was to the effect, "Illuminate her heart if Thy good pleasure be." "In so doing," said Lethington to Knox, "ye put a doubt in the people's head of her conversion." "Not I, my lord," replied Knox, "but her own obstinate rebellion causes more than me to doubt of her conversion." "Whereunto rebels she against God?" asked the Secretary. "In all the actions of her life," was the reply. Two particular instances are singled out. She will not give up that idol the Mass, nor will she attend the preaching of the Gospel. "When," asked Knox, "will she be seen to give her presence to the public preaching?" "I think never," answers Lethington, "as long as she is thus entreated." Lethington, of course, believed, in a way, in the possibility of Mary's conversion, and we have no doubt he was trying to find some via media between Romanism and Protestantism which the Queen might follow. But Knox knew of no such "way," and said so.

Among the other questions discussed was the obedience due by subjects to rulers. Knox's views on this question we know full well. In the course of the argument Lethington thought that he had confuted Knox when he said, "Then will ye make subjects to control their princes and rulers?" to which came the reply, "And what harm should the Commonwealth receive, if that the corrupt affections of ignorant rulers were moderated and so bridled by the wisdom and discretion of godly subjects that they should do wrong nor violence to no man?" The Rulers of the Court were anxious that the Reformed Theology might be stretched so as to admit the celebration of the Mass, especially on the part of a princess, to be no sacrilege. If this compromise could be agreed to Mary might still follow her Romish ways and be a Protestant Queen. Knox, of course, could not see this, and when Lethington admitted that the "idolater was commanded to die the death" he practically gave up the argument. The Mass was idolatry, and how then could the idolater, even though she were a Queen, hope to escape?

The discussion ended, as it usually did, in favour of Knox, for Lethington, being professedly a Protestant, was bound to accept his premises. How then could he escape the inevitable conclusions?


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