Check all the Clans that have DNA Projects. If your Clan is not in the list there's a way for it to be listed. Electric Scotland's Classified Directory An amazing collection of unique holiday cottages, castles and apartments, all over Scotland in truly amazing locations.

Click here to get a Printer Friendly Page

John Knox, A Biography
Chapter XX - Last Years and Death


KNOX'S public work was now practically over, and his ministry in Edinburgh was coming to an end. The two years of life still left him were clouded by the civil war into which his country had been plunged. Between the parties of the King and Queen there was a bitter struggle; friends, and even families, were divided, and no Scotsman can look back upon the period without regret and sorrow. In addition to the distress caused by the unsatisfactory condition of public affairs, Knox was also wounded by unscrupulous maligners who tried to injure his character and discredit his policy. He was the less able now to withstand such attacks, for in the autumn of this year he had a stroke of apoplexy which impeded his speech for some time.

He still displayed his old spirit, and repelled the attacks with scorn; and when the zeal of others was slackening he ceased not to inveigh from the pulpit against the Queen, and to declare that all the troubles from which the country was at that time suffering were due to the leniency which they had displayed towards her who, he was thoroughly convinced, was guilty of the most heinous crimes. At the Meeting of the Assembly in March of that year libels against Knox were dropped on to the floor, or stuck on the door, inciting the members to condemn him for refusing to pray for the Queen, and calling upon him to justify his support of Elizabeth in view of the opinions against female rule advocated in the notorious First Blast.

These, after all, were but pin-pricks, which in the days of his hardy manhood would not have affected him much, nor are there many signs of their having disturbed him greatly now. A more serious cause of dejection was found in the fact that his old comrade and friend, Kirkcaldy of Grange, had forsaken him and joined the party of the Queen. Grange and he had been together in the Castle of St. Andrews, were fellow-prisoners in the French galleys, and had afterwards worked hand in hand in promoting the Reformation. Grange, who was a capable soldier and a staunch Protestant, was entrusted by the Regent with the charge of Edinburgh Castle, one of the most important posts in the country. Even prior to Moray's death Kirkcaldy showed signs of defection, which is supposed to have been due to the wiles of Lethington, who was a strong Queen's man, and as an inmate of the Castle had talked Kirkcaldy over. Knox had refrained from making any public reference to Kirkcaldy's conduct, but when the Captain of the Castle stormed the Tolbooth and liberated one of his own followers who had been imprisoned on a charge of manslaughter, Knox felt that even old friendship could not demand his silence, and he broke out the following Sunday in the pulpit of St. Giles' into no measured condemnation of Grange's deed. Kirkcaldy, to whom a garbled account of the discourse had been conveyed, demanded that public reparation should be made by Knox, and even went the length of accusing him before the Session of maligning his character. Knox had no difficulty in meeting this attack. The true version of what he said was enough to refute the charges of Kirkcaldy.

The adherents of the Queen were now flocking to Edinburgh, and finding welcome shelter in the Castle. The King's party, under Lennox, who had been appointed Regent, were stationed at Leith. A conflict seemed imminent. The friends of Knox were alarmed lest any harm should befall him, for the Castle guns commanded the city, and cannons had been posted on the steeple of St. Giles', the largest of them being christened by the soldiers "John Knox." Friends in Ayrshire, who had heard that Grange was threatening Knox's life, wrote to the Captain of the Castle warning him against any attack on Knox's person, and recalling to his mind the great work which the Reformer had accomplished. Friends in Edinburgh besought him to leave the city, and Grange even offered him the shelter of the Castle. Knox steadily resisted all appeals; but a shot fired into his house, and which might have proved fatal if he had been occupying his usual seat, was significant of the intention of the more evil-minded of his enemies, so on the 5th of May 1571 he departed from Edinburgh and crossed to Fife.

After staying for a short time at Abbotshall, near Kirkcaldy, he pursued his journey to St. Andrews, which he reached in the beginning of July 1571. He was accompanied by his wife and family, and made arrangements for his temporary settlement in the "cold grey city by the sea." He was safe in St. Andrews from the cannon of Edinburgh Castle, but he was not to experience that peace which his soul desired, for, whatever it may be now, St. Andrews was then a hot-bed of cliques, ecclesiastical and academical, and Knox was dragged into the squabbles in which the leading citizens seemed to find their chief delight. Of the three colleges which comprised the University, St. Leonard's was the only one which favoured the Reformation; and the city, as a whole, was divided in its allegiance between the old faith and the new.

Pen portraits showing what Knox was like during the two last years of his life have been left us by Richard Bannatyne and James Melville. The former was Knox's secretary and personal attendant, and the latter was a student in St. Leonard's College at the time when the Reformer was resident in St. Andrews. Melville gives a graphic description of Knox's appearances in St. Andrews at this time. "But of all the benefits I had that year," he says, "was the coming of that most notable prophet and apostle of our nation, Mr. John Knox, to St. Andrews, who, by the faction of the Queen occupying the Castle and Town of Edinburgh, was compelled to remove therefrom, with a number of the best, and chose to come to St. Andrews. I heard him teach there the prophecy of Daniel that summer and winter following. I had my pen and my little book and took away such things as I could comprehend. In the opening up of his text he was moderate for the space of half an hour, but when he entered to application he made me so to grew and tremble that I could not hold a pen to write. . . . Mr. Knox would sometime come in and repose him in our college yard and call us scholars unto him, and bless us and exhort us to know God and His work in our country, and stand by the good cause; to use our time well and learn the good instructions and follow the good example of our masters. . . . I saw him every day of his doctrine go slowly and warily, with a furring of martrix about his neck, a staff in the one hand, and good godly Richard Bannatyne, his servant, holding up the other oxter, from the Abbey to the Parish Kirk, and by the said Richard and another servant lifted up to the pulpit, where he behoved to lean at his first entry, but ere he had done with his sermon he was so active and vigorous that he was like to ding that pulpit in blads and flie out of it."

Knox still kept a watchful eye on domestic and foreign affairs, and though "half deid," as he himself expresses it, was quite alive to, and deeply interested in, all that was passing. Accordingly when in 1572 Morton introduced his new policy of creating bishops, Knox resisted him to the utmost of his power. It is possible that the Earl experienced some difficulty in finding sufficient money to carry on the war against the Queen's party, and it is not at all unlikely, besides, that, in keeping with his grasping nature, he wished to add to his own possessions. In any case he was determined to lay his hands on what remained of the Church's property, and to accomplish this with a seeming compliance to the law and constitution he introduced what is known as "Tulchan Bishops." In other words, while bishops were to be appointed to the various Sees, their salaries were to be nominal, and Morton for one would pocket the original stipend. It was a mean device, and no one can regret its ultimate failure.

The first to receive the revived honour was John Douglas, the Rector of the University, who was nominated Archbishop of St. Andrews. Morton, afraid lest the appointment might miscarry, was present at the service. Wynram preached the sermon, and Knox was asked by the Earl to deliver the ordination charge. He refused, and would take no part in the inauguration of the new Bishop. Knox experienced now a repetition of the pin-pricks which in Edinburgh, a short time previously, galled without wounding him. He never could forgive the Hamiltons for their conduct during the Regency of Moray, nor could he forget that it was one of that name and house who was the Regent's assassin. There was a Hamilton in St. Andrews at this time who did his best to discredit the Reformer, and who charged him with being one of the signatories to the plot for the murder of Rizzio. Knox immediately brought him to his senses, but the calumniator pursued Knox after his death with vile charges which, disbelieved then, are now all but forgotten.

It was at this time also that Knox published his reply to the Jesuit Tyrie. This learned and Catholic Scotsman, who had been specially trained in Rome for the purpose, attacked the Reformed religion in a letter sent to his brother. The production having fallen into Knox's hands, he immediately set himself to reply to the charges point by point. This was in 1566, and now in St. Andrews, in 1572, he publishes the piece with a preface and appendix, which may be regarded as his literary farewell to the world. It is evident that he was not altogether satisfied with his residence in St. Andrews at this time, and that he felt the petty squabbles in which he had been involved. It is only on this ground that we can account for the letter which he addressed to the Assembly which met in Perth in the beginning of August. In his communication he charges the Church to keep a watchful eye on the Universities, and on no account to permit them to escape from its control. Such a warning would be unneeded now. The Universities have been practically liberated from the government of the Church, but it is an open question whether the new relations in which they have been placed is more to their advantage.

Knox left St. Andrews on the 17th of August. A truce prevailed between the two parties of the King and Queen, the citizens were returning to Edinburgh, and Knox's own congregation wished him back. Craig, his colleague, was not giving satisfaction. He was suspected of being in sympathy with the Castle. On the 4th of August Commissioners came to Knox requesting his return. He complied, and preached in St. Giles' on the last Sunday of the month. Knox was nothing loth to leave St. Andrews. He had not been particularly happy there, and his heart was in Edinburgh. There he would be with his own congregation, and he would also be in touch with public affairs. He was not able, however, to preach in the great church, as his shattered health made it impossible for him to stand the strain. He had to conduct the service in the Tolbooth, a part of the church which from its limited size enabled him to preach with the hope of being heard by the congregation. One of his first acts after his return was the appointment of a colleague and successor. Craig had now deserted him, and Knox, who knew that his end could not be long delayed, was most anxious to have the place filled at the earliest moment. Choice fell upon Lawson, Sub-Principal of Aberdeen University. Knox urged him to come at once, that they might "confer together of heavenly things." "Haste," he adds, "lest ye come too late." In due course Lawson was inducted to his new office, and Knox now could turn his mind to other things.

An event of deep significance and far-reaching consequence now occurred in the Massacre of St. Bartholomew, which caused the greatest consternation all over Europe. Knox at once took advantage of it to strengthen the cause of Protestantism, and the result was that, mainly through his efforts, a league was entered into by Scotland, England, and other Protestant countries, against Roman Catholicism.

Mary was still the cause of great trouble, and Elizabeth was finding her, though a prisoner, a disturbing factor in the country. It would accordingly seem to have been decided that she should be sent back to Scotland and there tried and executed. Mar and Morton would appear to have agreed to this, nor could Knox have any objections. His opinion of Mary was well known; he judged her deserving of death.

Killigrew, the English Agent, in writing to Cecil on the matter, gives a description of Knox's health and disposition at this time which is of considerable interest: "John Knox is now so feeble as scarce can he stand alone or speak to be heard of any audience, yet doth he every Sunday cause himself to be carried to a place where a certain number do hear him, and

preacheth with the same vehemence and zeal that he ever did. He doth reverence your Lordship much, and willed me once again to send you word that he thanked God he had obtained at His hands that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is truly and simply preached throughout Scotland, which doth so comfort him as he now desireth to be out of this miserable life. He said further that it was not long of your Lordship that he was not a great bishop in England but that effect grown in Scotland, he being an instrument, cloth much more satisfy him. He desired me to make his last commendations most humbly to your Lordship, and with all that lie prayed God to increase His strong spirit in you, saying, `'There was never more need'; and quoth he to me, 'Take heed how ye believe them of the Castle, for sure they will deceive you, and trust me I know they seek nothing more than the ruin of your Mistress, which they have been about for a long time."'

On November the 9th (1572) Knot preached his last sermon. It was at the induction of his colleague Mr. Lawson in St. Giles'. He was so feeble that he scarcely could be heard. After the benediction was pronounced he made homewards, followed by the congregation and leaning on his staff. He reached his house in the Netherbow and never again left it. On the 11th he was attacked by a severe cough, his breathing became difficult, and feeling that the end was near lie called one of his servants and paid him his wages, with the words, "Thou wilt never get no more from me in this life." His mind now began to wander. On Friday, thinking it was Sunday, he wished to go to church to preach "on the resurrection." On Saturday when two friends called he ordered a hogshead of wine to be pierced in their honour, and urged them to drink, and to continue sending for it as long as it lasted, as he himself would " never tarry until it was drunken."

On Monday the 17th he called the office-bearers of St. Giles' around him, and in solemn words reviewed his ministry and bade farewell to them all. Lethington in the Castle was the cause of much dispeace to Knox during his last days on earth. The Secretary complained to the Kirk Session that Knox had slandered him as an "enemy to all religion," and with having said "that heaven and hell are things devised to fray bairns." Accompanying the complaint was a demand for evidence or apology. Knox was too weak to reply, as he otherwise would have done, but he appealed to all who heard him if Lethington's actions did not bear out all that he had said. For Kirkcaldy of Grange, Lethington's companion in the Castle, he felt much pity, for he knew that he was but the tool of the Secretary, and he made a last effort, through Lindsay, the minister of Leith, to induce him to give up the Castle and join his old friends, warning him at the same time of what would happen unless this advice were followed.

He could not now speak except with great pain. Everyone knew that his end could not be long delayed, and his friends, one after another, called to take the last farewell. The nobles in Edinburgh, Ruthven, Morton, Boyd, and Lindsay, spent a few moments at his bedside. Morton, who was soon to be Regent, was asked if he had been privy to the murder of Darnley, and receiving a reply in the negative, Knox spoke out in his usual plain manner, charging him to use his position and influence better in time to come "than you have done in time past. If so you do, God shall bless and honour you, but if you do it not, God shall spoil you of these benefits, and your end shall be ignominy and shame." Women too, "devout and honourable," came for the last look and word. To one of them who praised him for his work he replied with a flash of the old spirit, "Tongue, tongue, lady, flesh of itself is overproud and needs no means to esteem itself."

On Friday the 21st he ordered Bannatyne to have his coffin prepared. On the Sunday he thought the end had come. His last night on earth was spent in a spiritual wrestle, Satan tempting him to trust in his own works, but through the grace of God he gained the victory. On Monday the 24th he called to his wife, "Go read where I cast my first anchor." She turned to the 17th chapter of John. After this he fell into a disturbed slumber. Shortly after ten the evening prayers were read. When finished, they asked him if he had heard. "Would to God," he answered, "that you and all men had heard them as I have heard them." Towards eleven o'clock he gave a deep sigh and said, "Now it is come." Bannatyne drew near and asked for one sign that he heard the words of comfort which he had just spoken to him, and which the Reformer himself had so often declared to others. Knox, as if "collecting his whole strength," lifted his hand, and without apparent struggle passed peacefully away. On Wednesday following, the 26th, he was buried immediately to the south of St. Giles' Church. The Regent Morton, standing by the grave, gave him an "honourable testimony," and pronounced the memorable eulogy, "Here lies one who neither flattered nor feared any flesh."

What was the personal appearance of this man who holds the highest place in the esteem of all Scotsmen? A contemporary, one Peter Young, Buchanan's assistant in the education of James vi., thus describes it in a letter to Beza:-

"In stature he was slightly under the middle height, of well-knit and graceful figure, with shoulders somewhat broad, longish fingers, head of moderate size, hair black, complexion somewhat dark, and general appearance not unpleasing. In his stern and severe countenance there was a natural dignity and majesty, not without a certain grace, and in anger there was an air of command on his brow. Under a somewhat narrow forehead his brows stood out under a slight ridge over his ruddy and slightly swelling cheeks, so that his eyes seemed to retreat into his head. The colour of his eyes was bluish-grey, their glance keen and animated, his face was rather long, his nose of more than ordinary length, the mouth large, the lips full, the upper a little thicker than the lower, his black beard mingled with grey, a span and a half long and moderately thick." Such was the man in outward appearance, and the history of Scotland, political, social, and religious, from then till now, has been but an unfolding of what he was in heart and mind and spirit; and it has borne ample testimony to the Reformer's own confident hope when he said, "What I have been to my country albeit this ungrateful age will not know, yet the ages to come will be compelled to bear witness to the truth."


Return to Book Contents Page

 


This comment system requires you to be logged in through either a Disqus account or an account you already have with Google, Twitter, Facebook or Yahoo. In the event you don't have an account with any of these companies then you can create an account with Disqus. All comments are moderated so they won't display until the moderator has approved your comment.

comments powered by Disqus

Quantcast