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John Knox, A Biography
Chapter XVII - Knox and Mary Stuart


BUT the individual who was most opposed to Knox's policy was the Queen herself. Being a Catholic she did not frequent his preachings, and not being a. hanger-on at the Court he did not have any intercourse with her, but on four separate occasions she sent for him with the object of winning or browbeating him into subjection. The first of these interviews has already been referred to, and we now enter upon a consideration of the others.

We know Knox's opinion of the Queen, which he confided to his familiars on leaving Holyrood after his first meeting with her. He had not in the interval changed his mind, and her doings, of which he had frequent information, did not raise her in his estimation. Knox's house in the Netherbow stood midway between the Castle and the Palace. It was situated at the junction of the High Street and Canongate, and was thus in the very centre of the life and traffic and gossip of the capital. Glimpses are given us through the pages of his History of his mode

of life there. We can picture him busy at his books in that little study overlooking the public thoroughfare, and made comfortable for him by the Town Council, at whose expense he was housed. Thither resorted all classes and conditions of the populace. On a Sunday evening he entertains to supper the Duke of Chatelherault and the English Ambassador. His house is invaded by refractory citizens who desire him to intercede on their behalf with the Magistrates; or it is the Earl of Bothwell who visits it to seek his aid in patching up a quarrel with the Earl of Arran. Women with troubled consciences resort to him for spiritual guidance, and others whose domestic affairs are disarranged ask him for worldly advice. We can see him stepping on to the Netherbow and wending his way to the great Church of St. Giles', interchanging friendly courtesies with the citizens, who revere him as their greatest and best man. Knox kept his hand on the pulse of public life through correspondents on the Continent and in England, who kept him well posted in every religious and political movement; and he also watched, with the keenest interest, the policy of the Protestant Lords, and was thoroughly well informed as to the ongoings of Queen Mary and her Court.

What he had heard of the doings at Holyrood was not to his mind. He did not at all approve of the French ways of the "four Alaries," and the Queen herself fell far short of his ideal of regal womanhood. Knox may have been harsh in his judgments and criticism of the Queen; he forgot that after all she was only a young girl, a Catholic, brought up in France, and by nature fond of pleasure. To his mind, however, the times were serious and her position responsible; and, as his habit was, he discoursed in the pulpit, under a thin veil, of those questionable doings of which he knew by hearsay, and did not hesitate to denounce what to him appeared ungodly and foreboded mischief and sorrow. Randolph, who kept Cecil well informed of all that was being said and done, writes: "Knox is so full of mistrust in all the Queen's doings, words and sayings, as though he were either of God's privy council that know how He had determined of her from the beginning, or that he knew the secrets of her heart so well that neither she did, nor could have, for ever one good thought of God or of His true religion."

But Knot's mistrust was far from being unfounded, for at this very time she was in correspondence with her uncles and the Pope regarding the restoration of the Catholic religion in her kingdom, and an encounter had just taken place between the Catholics, under the Duke of Guise, and the Protestants, which ended in the massacre of nien, women, and children. When news of this reached Edinburgh, the dancing at Holyrood was prolonged to an unusually late hour. This festivity of the Court may have been accidental, but Knox (lid not think so, and on the following Sunday he inveighed against her conduct and stormed at the " ignorance and vanity and the despite of princes." Mary sent for her untractable subject. The Queen, he tells us, was in her bedchamber. On this occasion she was not alone, for there were present the Lord James, the Earl of Morton, Lethington, and others. The Queen in a "long harangue or orison" taxed him with inciting her subjects to regard her with disfavour, and to make her odious in their eyes. But Knox affirmed that she had not been rightly informed, and in order to instruct her as to what he really said he repeated the main points of his sermon. This we presume was the first Protestant discourse that the Queen had ever listened to. Mary at once acknowledged that his words had not been correctly repeated to her, but all the same "your words are sharp enough as ye have spoken them."

She then suggested that if there was anything in her conduct that he did not approve of, he should come to her and tell her of it privately. "I am called, Madam," was the unhesitating reply, " to a public function within the Kirk of God, and am appointed by God to rebuke the sins and vices of all. I am not appointed to come to every man in particular to show him his offence, for that labour would be infinite. . .. To wait upon your chamber door, or elsewhere, and then to have no further liberty but to whisper my mind in your Grace's ear, or to tell to you what others think and speak of you, neither will my conscience nor the vocation whereto God hath called me to suffer it, for albeit at your Grace's command I am here now, yet cannot I tell what other men shall judge of me that at this time of day I am absent from my Book and waiting upon the Court."

Mary must have been amazed, if not staggered, at Knox's attitude and words. Her first interview with him, and her knowledge of his character, would no doubt prepare her somewhat for the position which he took up. It was her object to conciliate the Protestants, and particularly Knox, and her part in the interview was directed to that end. But Knox was not to be conciliated, and he was confident that it was impossible to conciliate Mary. They were different types, and there could be no agreement between them, so she dismissed him curtly with the words, "Ye will not always be at your Book," and turned her back on him. Knox says of himself in one of the most striking passages in his History: "The said John Knox departed with a reasonable merry countenance, whereat some Catholics, offended, said, 'He is not effrayed.' Which heard of him, he answered, `Why should the pleasing face of a gentlewoman effray me, I have looked on the faces of many angry men and yet have not been effrayed above measure."

Knox's next interview with the Queen was in Loch Leven Castle, which was to have many mournful memories for her in after years. The occasion was the "warding" by the Protestants of those Catholics who had broken the law by celebrating or countenancing the Mass. Mary pleaded with him to use his influence in having the stringent measures relaxed. For two whole hours she laboured with him, but without success. The Papists were suffering from having broken the law, the law must be enforced, and if the Queen would not do it, then some of her subjects must do it for her. "Will ye," asked Mary, "allow that they shall take my sword in their hands?" Knox was ready with Scriptural parallels to show that this was no impossible thing. Samuel slew Agag, Elijah the prophets of Baal, and why should not John Knox or some other slay Archbishop Hamilton if need be, with or without royal sanction? At this point the Queen broke off the conference with much displeasure.

It would seem that Knox communicated to Moray the result of the interview, and he, anxious to conciliate Knox for diplomatic reasons, induced his sister to grant the Reformer another meeting. In the conversation which followed we find Mary at her very best. At her request Knox waited on her while out hawking, west of Kinross. It was early morning, for she was active in her habits; she received him graciously, as if nothing had happened the night before. Lord Ruthven had offered her a ring. What did Mr. Knox think of it? "I cannot love him," she added, "for I know him to use enchantment." She had heard that Knox was going to Dumfries to make Alexander Gordon, a former Bishop, Superintendent of the Kirk at Dumfries. If he knew him as well as she did he would never promote hint to that office nor to "any other within the Kirk"; and, by the way, her half-sister Lady Argyle and her husband the Earl, as she had reason to know, were not on good terms. "This," she added, "is one of the greatest matters that have touched me since I came to this realm, and I must have your help."

Knox became interested. He had made peace between the couple before, and Lady Argyle had promised to make him, and no other, her confidant and spiritual adviser. "Do this much for my sake," said the Queen, "as once again to put them at unity"; and so she dismissed him with the promise, "I shall summon all offenders, and ye shall know that I shall minister justice." Knox fell under the spell, but only for the moment. She wished to gain time for the meeting of the impending Parliament. The Protestant members must be kept away at whatever cost. She managed her point with them, but Knox soon recovered himself, and saw with increased anger the trend of her policy.

We have seen that Knox was bitterly disappointed with the Parliament, at which he expected the Book of Discipline, among other things, to be ratified, and as his custom was he referred to the matter from the pulpit of St. Giles' on a subsequent Sunday. The "most part of the nobility" were present, and he rehearsed in their hearing "the mercies that had attended their steps till the great victory that was sealed by the Parliament of 1560." A retrospect such as the following must have stirred the hearts of many who listened to him. "In your most extreme dangers I've been with you. St. Johnstone, Cupar Moor, and the Craigs of Edinburgh are yet recent in my heart; yea that dark and dolorous night wherein all ye, my Lords, with shame and fear left this town is yet in my mind, and God forbid that ever I forget it."

He animadverted on the part which the Queen had taken in resisting their demands, and could not tolerate the idea that anyone, even a queen, should stand in the way of the realisation of God's purposes. "The Queen, say ye, will not agree with us. Ask ye of her that which by God's Word ye may justly require, and if she will not agree with you in God ye are not bound to agree with her in the devil." Knox had heard rumours regarding the Queen's marriage to the heir to the Spanish throne. He was a Roman Catholic of the deepest dye, and such a union would mean the destruction of all that Knox had already accomplished and still hoped for. The Reformer accordingly expressed himself in no unmeasured terms regarding such a project. This was too much for Mary, and she accordingly summoned him for the fourth and last time to Holyrood. Knox by his outspokenness had offended friends and foes, but a sufficient number of ardent admirers rallied round him and accompanied him to the Palace. None, however, were allowed to pass with him into the Queen's presence but Erskine of Dun. Mary was thoroughly roused, and in a "vehement fume" poured forth reproaches on the preacher's head. Knox himself has described the interview in one of the most memorable passages in his History, and by quoting it in full we shall give both a specimen of his style and an illustration of the relation that existed between him and Queen Mary

"The Queen, in a vehement fume, began to cry out that never prince was handled as she was. 'I have,' said she, 'borne with you in all your rigorous manner of speaking, both against myself and against my uncles; yea, I have sought your favour by all possible means; I offered unto you presence and audience whensoever it pleased you to admonish me, and yet I cannot be quit of you. I vow to God I shall be once revenged.' And with these words, scarcely could Marnock, her secret chamber-boy, get napkins to hold her eyes dry for the tears. And the howling, besides womanly weeping, stayed her speech. The said John did patiently abide all the first fume, and at opportunity answered

"'True it is, Madam, your Grace and I have been at divers controversies, into the which I never perceived your Grace to be offended at me. But when it shall please God to deliver you from that bondage of darkness and error in the which ye have been nourished, for the lack of true doctrine, your Majesty will find the liberty of my tongue nothing offensive. Without the preaching place, Madam, I think few have occasion to be offended at me; and there, Madam, I am not master of myself, but must obey Him who commands me to speak plain, and to flatter no flesh upon the face of the earth.'

"'But what have you to do,' said she, I with my marriage?'

"'If it please your Majesty,' said he, `patiently to hear me, I shall show the truth in plain words. I grant your Grace offered unto me more than ever I required, but my answer was then as it is now, that God hath not sent me to wait upon the courts of princes, or upon the chamber of ladies; but I am sent to preach the Evangel of Jesus Christ to such as please to hear it; and it bath two parts, Repentance and Faith. Now, Madam, in preaching repentance, of necessity it is that the sins of men be so noted that they may know wherein they offend; but so it is, that the most part of your nobility are so addicted to your affections, that neither God's Word, nor yet their commonwealth, are rightly regarded; and therefore it becomes me so to speak that they may know their duty.'

"'What have you to do,' said she, 'with my marriage? Or what are you in this commonwealth?'

"'A subject born within the same, Madam,' said lie. `And albeit I am neither earl, lord, nor baron within it, yet has God made me—how abject that ever I am in your eyes—a profitable member within the same; yea, Madam, to me it appertains no less to forewarn of such things as may hurt it, if I foresee them, than it doth to any of the nobility; for both my vocation and conscience crave plainness of me, and therefore, Madam, to yourself I say that which I spake in public place. Whensoever that the nobility of this realm shall consent that ye be subject to an unfaithful (infidel) husband, they do as much as within them lieth to renounce Christ, to banish His truth from them, to betray the freedom of this realm, and perchance shall in the end do small comfort to yourself.'

"At these words, howling was heard, and tears might have been seen in greater abundance than the matter required. John Erskine of Dun, a man of meek and gentle spirit, stood beside, and entreated what he could to mitigate her anger, and gave unto her many pleasing words of her beauty, of her excellency, and how that all the princes of Europe would be glad to seek her favour. But all that was to cast oil in the flaming fire. The said John stood still without any alteration of countenance for a long season, until that the Queen gave place to such inordinate passion; and in the end he said, 'Madam, in God's presence I speak, I never delighted in the weeping of any of God's creatures; yea, I can scarcely abide the tears of my own boys, whom my own hand corrects, much less can I rejoice in your Majesty's weeping; but seeing that I have offered you no just occasion to be offended, but have spoken the truth, as my vocation craves of me, I must sustain — albeit unwillingly — your Majesty's tears, rather than I dare hurt my conscience or betray my commonwealth through my silence.'

"Herewith was the Queen more offended, and commanded the said John to pass forth of the cabinet, and to abide farther of her pleasure in the chamber. The Laird of Dun tarried, and Lord John of Coldingham came into the cabinet; and so they both remained with her near the space of an hour. The said John stood in the chamber as one whom men had never seen—so were all afraid—except that the Lord Ochiltree bore him company; and therefore began he to forge talking with the ladies who were there sitting in all their gorgeous apparel, which espied, he merrily said, 'O fair ladies, how pleasing was this life of yours if it should ever abide, and then in the end that we might pass to heaven with all this gay gear. But fie upon that knave Death, that will come whether we will or not! and when he has laid on his arrest, the foul worms will be busy with the flesh, be it never so fair and so tender; and the silly soul, I fear, shall be so feeble, that it can neither carry with it gold, garnishing, targetting, pearl, nor precious stones.' And by such means procured he company of women, and so passed the time till that the Laird of Dun willed him to depart to his house with new advertisement. The Queen would have had the sensement of the Lords of Articles if that such manner of speaking deserved not punishment; but she was counselled to desist, and so that storm quieted in appearance, but never in the heart."

So far Knox had distinctly the best of the encounters, and, however much disappointed, Mary was too shrewd to let her feelings be known. She was evidently determined, should the opportunity ever arise, to have Knox silenced, if not condemned, by her Council. What she may have conceived as his ultimate fate we do not know; banishment perhaps, or even something worse: and at last the Reformer would seem to have put himself into her power. While the Queen was in the west, during the autumn of 1563, the Mass was celebrated at Holyrood. As the law at that time stood this was only allowable in the Queen's own presence. The Protestants on hearing of what had taken place sent two of their number to inquire into the matter, and take the names of those who were present at the service. Mary, on hearing of what had occurred, promptly issued orders that two of the Deputies who had made themselves particularly offensive should be tried on the charge of forcibly entering the Queen's Palace. The Protestants on learning this commissioned Knox to despatch a circular letter summoning the brethren to appear in Edinburgh on the day of trial. If the Mass were to be permitted anywhere and everywhere the cause of Protestantism he felt was lost.

Although it might seem a bold step to summons a meeting, the doing of it was only an assertion of the liberty of the Church, and of the members of the Commonwealth as a whole, to assemble for purposes which were clearly lawful. Knox's letter fell into the hands of the Queen, and she had him at once summoned before the Council on a charge of treason. A full account of the trial is given in his History of the Reformation, and his description of it more than equals, in its graphic details, that of any of the other interviews which he had with the Queen. 'This, however, was more than an interview. Knox's very life hung in the balance, and if the votes of the Council were cast against him he might well regard himself as a dead man. Moray and Lethington, previous to the trial, endeavoured to persuade him to acknowledge his fault and to throw himself on the Queen's mercy, but this lie distinctly refused to do. The Secretary then tried to inveigle him into a statement of the grounds of his defence, but Knox perceived his craft and declined to be entrapped. When the citizens of Edinburgh heard of what had happened they followed Knox in a great crowd to the Palace, and filled the outer court and stairs leading to the chamber where the trial was to take place.

There were assembled the chief men in the State, and all the officers of the Court; Knox stood alone and unsupported, to defend himself as best he might. The Queen was unable to conceal her feelings. She believed that her hour of triumph had come, and she forgot that dignity which was due to herself as a woman and a princess. "Her pomp," remarks Knox, "lacked one principal point, to wit womanly gravity, for when she saw John Knox standing at the other end of the table, bareheaded, she first smiled and after gave a gaulf of laughter, whereat placeboes gave their plaudit, affirming with like countenance, 'this is a good beginning.' She said, `Rut wot ye whereat I laugh? Yon man made me greet and grate never a tear himself. I will see if I can gar him greet."'

Lethington then stated the charge, and Knox admitted the authorship of the letter, which he was asked to read. When he finished, the Queen, "looking at the whole table, said, 'Heard you ever, my Lords, a more despiteful and treasonable letter?'" Lethington then took up the case, and asked Knox if he was sorry for having penned such a letter. The reply to this was a disquisition on the difference between lawful and unlawful convocations, and the exposition was so forcible that even Lord Ruthven confessed that Knox had done no wrong. The Reformer followed up the favourable impression which he was evidently making by declaring that what he had done was by the authority of the Kirk. Even the nobles present, Catholic as well as Protestant, were beginning to see that if no meeting could take place except when summoned by the Queen, or with her consent, not only the freedom of the Church, but that of the whole Commonwealth would be gone.

As to the charge of cruelty which the Queen declared he had made against her, Knox replied that it was the Catholics who were distinctly pointed at and not the Queen; and he carried the whole Council with him when he described the ruthless tyranny of the Romish Church, and the sufferings that would follow should that Church again be in the ascendant. At this point one stopped him with the remark, "You forget yourself, you are not now in the pulpit." To which came the memorable answer, "I am in the place where I am demanded by conscience to speak the truth, and therefore the truth I speak impugn it whoso list." After this what could be said? Even Lethington perceived that Knox had won, and so, after whispering with the Queen, he said, " Mr. Knox, ye may return to your house for this night." "I thank God and the Queen's Majesty," said the other; and with a parting shot at the Secretary he added, "And, Madam, I pray God to preserve you from the counsel of flatterers, for, how pleasant that they appear to your ears and corrupt affections for the time, experience has taught us in what perplexity they have brought famous princes."

When Knox had departed the vote was taken, and he was unanimously acquitted. Even Sinclair, the Bishop of Ross, who had handed Knox's letter to the Queen, voted in his favour. Mary in her passion turned upon him, and with biting sarcasm said, "Trouble not the bairn, I pray you, for he is newly wakened out of a sleep. Why should not the old fool follow the foosteps of them that have passed before him?" The Bishop answered coldly, "Your Grace may consider that it is neither affection to the man, nor yet love to his profession, that moved me to absolve him, but the simple truth that plainly appears in his defence draws me after it, albeit that others would condemn him and it." The meeting then dissolved; and Knox, in a kind of appendix, adds, "That night was neither dancing nor fiddling in the Court, for Madam was disappointed of her purpose, which was to have had John Knox in her will by vote of her nobility."

There is no passage in the life of Knox that has so strongly affected the popular imagination as the conflict between him and Queen Mary. The various interviews that he had with her, and the trial of wit and logic that took place between them, form one of the most outstanding features not only in his life but in Scottish history. And what has caused these incidents to live and so powerfully to affect the public mind is the fact that underneath them all lay the great question of civil liberty. There is undoubtedly something striking, and even picturesque, in this brave man of the people fearlessly standing before his Queen and more than holding his own with her. Surprise has been frequently expressed at him, and him alone, being able to resist the glamour of royalty and the beauty and charm of Queen Mary. He would very likely have succumbed to her influence, like the rest of the Protestants who visited the Court, were it not that he was contending for something far above any human or worldly interest. He was the champion of true religion, of pure worship, and of God's eternal truth, and if he yielded, all these, he felt, would be lost. In their defence he was ready to sacrifice his life.

Bound up with them also, he firmly believed, were the spiritual and civil interests of his country. Should the cause he championed be lost, not only would despite be done to the Almighty, but misery entailed on the realm and people of Scotland. Knox's countrymen have ever felt this, even those of them to whom he is only a popular tradition, and who cannot put into words the thoughts that possess them. They believe in him as their greatest man, and honour him as the vindicator of their rights and liberty as children of God and members of the Scottish Commonwealth.

More than enough has been said about Knox's seeming lack of courtesy towards his Queen. It should be remembered that he only conversed with her when she sent for him, and that he had to defend himself, always single handed, against charges, some of them of the most serious nature. His speech had to be plain and strong, and we must admit that his words are sufficiently civil. It was really the Queen who tried to browbeat him and not he the Queen. Mary Stuart would have shown much more respect for herself if, after the first interview with Knox, she had left him alone. A few minutes' conversation ought to have been sufficient to show her the kind of man he was; and in summoning him so often to her presence, and in revealing in the discussions that took place much that was womanly weak and unwomanly violent, she did herself a disservice, both at the time and in the eyes of posterity.

There was another matter which deeply offended Mary, and that was the marriage of Knox, on Palm Sunday 1564, to Margaret Stewart, daughter of Andrew, Lord Stewart of Ochiltree. The bride was of the "blood," and was thus related to the Queen, though distantly. If Knox took upon him to interfere with Mary's matrimonial enterprises the Queen "fumed" not a little at the contract which he was about to form. What surprises one now is that Knox should have thought of marriage at all. He was a widower with two young children, and his domestic affairs were superintended by his mother-in-law, Mrs. Bowes; besides, he was now getting well on in years. Marrying and re-marrying, then as now, did not always follow the lines laid down by disinterested parties; and at the present day marriages take place, especially in the higher ranks of society, with a greater disparity between the ages of the bridegroom and bride than what existed between those of Knox and his wife. When the Reformer Farel married, at the age of sixty-nine, a girl younger even than Knox's bride, Calvin, on being appealed to, wrote: "Dearest brethren, I am in such perplexity that I know not where to make a beginning; certain it is that our poor brother, Master William, has for once been so ill advised that we must all needs be in shame and confusion on his account."

Margaret Stewart, from all accounts, proved a true and faithful helpmate to her husband, tended his declining years with great care, and was most attentive to him on his deathbed. She bore him three daughters, all of whom married; and she herself, some years after Knox's death, married Andrew Ker of Faudounside, one of Rizzio's murderers. Knox's two sons by his first wife, Marjory Bowes, Nathaniel and Eleazer, born in Geneva in 1557 and 1558, matriculated at the University of Cambridge eight days after their father's death. Nathaniel died in 1580 and his brother in 1591. No direct descendants of Knox are now known to exist.


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