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John Knox, A Biography
Chapter XVIII - Fall of the Rulers


MARY had now been three years. iii the country, and the policy of compromise which she had been pursuing, under the advice of the Protestant Lords, was about to end in failure. Elizabeth was no nearer than she had been when Mary first landed in the country to a recognition of her as her successor to the English throne, and the other schemes and projects which her advisers had in their mind gave very little hope of fulfilment. In desperation Moray and Lethington favoured a marriage between Don Carlos, heir to the Spanish throne, and the Queen of Scots. In such a union Mary saw much that pleased her—the restoration of the old religion and the conquest of England. But this, too, fell through; so did the project of Elizabeth, who preferred that her cousin should marry the Lord Robert Dudley, her own discarded lover. Mary contemptuously dismissed him as "a groom."

The Queen, thoroughly disappointed at the failure of the policy hitherto pursued, determined to free herself from the tutelage of the Protestant Lords, and by following other counsel, or more probably the innate tendency of her own nature, to hew out a path of her own. Her eyes turned to the Lord Darnley, son of the Earl of Lennox, her own cousin, and, after herself, the nearest to the English throne.

She recalled Lennox, who arrived in Scotland in September 1564. Shortly afterwards, in February of 1565, he was followed by Darnley, and the family was restored to the honours which it had forfeited twenty years before. The Darnley marriage had much to recommend it. He was a Roman Catholic, and his nearness to the English throne would seem to hold out hopes to Mary of the realisation of the dream of her life. To be Queen of the United Kingdoms of England and Scotland, and to see the. old religion re-established in both countries, was her ambition; and one for which she had been plotting and scheming, along with the Pope and the heads of other Catholic countries, for some time. The breach between Mary and Moray became wider, and in a proclamation she referred to "some who bore the whole sway with us, and who would be kings themselves, or at least, leaving to us the bare title and name, would take to themselves the credit and whole administration of the kingdom."

About this time there appeared on the scene David Rizzio, an Italian adventurer, who was to have a sinister influence on the life of Mary, and directly to involve her in the ruin which followed. He was a musician, had a knowledge of foreign languages, made himself useful to the Queen, and acted as her secretary. He was thought by the Protestants to be a Romish emissary, and there is no doubt that his policy tended towards the restoration of the Romish Church in Scotland. He was favourable to the Darnley marriage because he saw in the new King a Roman Catholic. He was a much abler man than Darnley. The latter was a vain and dissolute youth, utterly unfit for the position in which he was about to be placed, and the very last man that Mary should have married. These two, Mary and Rizzio, through the spring of 1565, ruled the Court, and the Protestant Lords withdrew and drew up a bond for their mutual support and defence. Knox and Moray would seem to have been reconciled at this time, but even they by their joint efforts could make no headway. Roman Catholics were growing bolder, and were holding services more openly. Mary still temporised, and half consented to hear the Protestant preachers, John Erskine of Dun by preference, for he was "a mild and sweet-natured man, with true honesty and uprightness"; but when put to the test by the Assembly of 1565, which demanded the suppression of the Mass, she flatly refused, and affirmed that she would not give up her religion nor break with the Catholic Powers. The Protestants regarded this as a challenge, and

several of the leading men took up arms, ready to act if support from England could be depended on.

On the 29th of July 1565 Mary publicly celebrated her marriage with Darnley. Elizabeth saw the full significance of this union, which put an end at once to the English alliance. Knox also perceived its purpose, and saw that it was intended to put an end to the Reformed religion. Moray, too, and the Protestant Lords read its lesson and fled from Edinburgh.

Knox had not been human if he did not gather some satisfaction from the fall of the "Rulers of the Court." They had despised his counsel, scoffed at his warnings, and disbelieved his prophecies. But the utter failure of their policy of compromise now proved that he possessed more political wisdom and foresight than they did. He was the only man in the country who seems to have abated no jot of hope for the future of the Reformed religion. He possibly saw in the present crisis a clearing of the air and a paving of the way for an honest policy which might yet end in success. He was well aware of Mary's correspondence with the Pope and the heads of Catholic countries, and it was with that knowledge in his mind that he preached in St. Giles' on the 19th of August a sermon which, under the thin veil of Old Testament incidents and characters, depicted the political situation of the hour.

Darnley was at church that Sunday. He would seem to have been Protestant or Catholic at will, and besides it was the policy of the Queen to keep, outwardly at least, on good terms with the Reformed party. Knox himself admits that the service lasted an hour longer than usual. This may account for the restlessness which the King is said to have displayed, but however dull and uninteresting he may have thought the sermon the following passages must have startled him into attention. "The same justice remaineth in God to punish thee Scotland, and thee Edinburgh in especial, that before punished Judah and the city of Jerusalem, for this is the only cause why God taketh away the strong man and the man of war, the judge and the prophet, the prudent and the aged, the captain and the honourable, the councillor and the cunning artificer." The banishment of the Protestant Lords was thus alluded to, and Darnley and the Queen were distinctly referred to in what follows. "And I will appoint, saith the Lord, children to be their princes, and babes shall rule over them. Children are extortioners of my people and women have rule over them." The King, we are told, was so moved at this sermon that "he would not dine, and being troubled with a great fury he passed in the afternoon to the hawking." Knox was roused from his bed that same evening to appear before the Council, which suspended him from preaching in Edinburgh "during such time that their Majesties should remain there."

The stay of the King and Queen in the capital was not long. In a week they were at the head of an army, marching west to put down the revolt of the Protestant Lords, so Knox was permitted to resume his old duties. The Queen on this, as on every other, occasion acted with great promptitude and courage. She rode at the head of an army "in a steel cap, with pistols at her saddlebow." The rebel Lords, afraid to meet her, rode into Edinburgh on the 31st August 1565. Knox on this very day was preparing for publication the sermon which he had preached on the 19th of the same month. The Castle guns opened fire on the rebels, and he writes: "The terrible roaring of the guns and the noise of armour do so pierce my heart that my soul thirsteth to depart."

Little encouragement was given by the citizens of Edinburgh to the Protestant Lords and their thirteen hundred followers. Moray and his friends sought refuge in England; Elizabeth gave them but a cold reception, and Mary's authority for the time being was supreme.

The turn which events had taken brought trouble on more than the fallen Rulers. Their defeat involved the Church in a series of misfortunes which threatened at the time to prove fatal. Among those upon whom the blow fell most heavily were the clergy, whose stipends were not paid. They, as a consequence, were in dire poverty, and some of them were compelled to give up their charges and others to eke out a livelihood by engaging in secular work. Young lads who were looking forward to the ministry of the Church were forced to relinquish their ambition and to take to some employment that promised more substantial reward. Knox was distressed at the sufferings of those who ought to have been in comfortable circumstances if a tithe of the property which belonged to the Church had been granted for their support.

This was one of the chief questions considered at the Assembly that year, and Knox during its sittings wrote two letters, one to the ministers and another to the congregations, exhorting the former not "to faint suddenly even in the brunt of the battle"; and admonishing the latter to prove their faith by their Christian liberality. "Let us therefore," he remarks, "Let us therefore begin to reverence the blessed Evangel of our salvation. Reverence and magnify it we cannot when that we suffer the true preachers thereof to be oppressed with poverty before our eyes, and yet we shut up the bowels of mercy from them." Rumours also were afloat that the Catholic Powers were about to combine in a general attack on Protestantism, and Mary it was known was a willing party to the league. "With the help of God and your Holiness," she wrote to the Pope, "I will leap over the dyke."

In view of these present troubles and ominous signs the General Assembly determined on a public Fast. 'Three reasons were given for this important step: the abounding sin in "all estates"; "the great hunger, famine, and oppression of the poor"; and the sad condition of their co-religionists "in France, Flanders, and other parts." Knox now, as at all times, made himself the champion of the poor. He did not spare the new lairds, Protestants for the most part, who had dispossessed the ancient Church. He charges them with being far more tyrannical and oppressive than the clergy of the Romish Church had ever been. It was no argument for a landlord to say, "I may do with my own as best pleaseth me." The tenant and the labourer, according to Knox, had inherent rights and interests in the land equal to that of the proprietor himself. He had failed to nationalise the possessions of the ancient Church, but he did not relinquish his belief that they belonged to the people, and that they should be under the trusteeship of the Reformed Church for the support of the three great objects, religion, education, and the poor. He calls upon the landlords to let their faith express itself in works. "We see no good reason," he says, "why it should be thought impossible that men should begin to express in their lives that which, in word they have publicly professed." These are some of the passages in the order, drawn up by Knox for the General Fast, fixed for the beginning of March. He saw in the present distress and suffering the judgment of the Almighty on the people for their sins, and he calls upon them with no uncertain voice to put themselves right, by confession, in the eyes of God; to amend their lives; and to do unto others as they would have others do unto them.

Calvinism is accused of being a mere intellectual system of doctrine, provocative of hypocrisy, and with no relation to personal conduct and life. If that be so, then Knox was not a Calvinist. Creed and conduct could not in his mind be separated; they were interdependent, and failure on the part of one brought discredit on the other. Knox immediately after this would seem to have gone to the south on a preaching tour. This he was charged to do by the Church. It was probably thought by his friends that his life was not safe in the capital, and he was instructed to remain "so long as occasion might suffer."


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