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John Knox, A Biography
Chapter VI - Friendships


WE have seen the influence that Knox had upon the Church of England. The form which the Reformation took in that country was not a little due to him. It may be true that his arrival on the scene was too late to give it that cast which he himself chiefly favoured, and which he was afterwards able to impose upon the Church of Scotland; all the same, he impressed the leaders of Church and State at the time with his personality, and introduced certain features into the doctrine and ritual of the Church of England that have characterised it ever since.

But it may be asked in turn if England had no influence upon Knox. It should never be forgotten that he spent five years of the best part of his life in that country, and that the next five years were passed on the Continent, but in ministering to an English congregation. The experience which he gained as a consequence was most valuable, and stood him in good stead in after years when he had to carry through the Reformation in his own country. But there are those who think that that experience was not the only benefit which he received from England and Englishmen. They imagine that his natural asperity was somewhat softened by fellowship with men and women who belonged to an older civilisation, and that the amenity of life which prevailed in the sister country across the border toned down his innate tendency to sharpness of temper and harshness of judgment.

This, of course, is very flattering to England, and not very complimentary to Knox. We fail to see the truth of it. Knox's character was all of a piece. The friendships which figure prominently in his life at that time, and which were made immediately after his appearance in England, show that by nature he was not the rough, rude, self-contained man that some imagine him to have been ; for beneath a rugged exterior there was a depth of affection and tenderness which drew to him those who felt the need of support and comfort while waging the battle of life.

It may appear singular that his English friends were for the most part women. His relations toward them form one of the most charming features of his life. Knox before and after this time had many men friends, but his attitude towards them was quite different from that which existed between him and his women friends. The men joined with the Reformer in the great public work which the times demanded. Their friendship was largely a matter of intellectual and political sympathy, but his relations to women were quite different. They looked to him for spiritual comfort and leaned upon him for religious support, and this is all the more remarkable because, in his First Blast against the Monstruous Regiment of Women, he is not slack in declaring his poor opinion of the gentler sex. "Women," he said in that remarkable and imprudent production, "women are weak, frail, impatient, feeble, and foolish"; and yet he in turn would seem to have leaned upon women and to have found them the most helpful of friends. The truth is that in Knox's case, as in that of many others, the head and heart were at war, and his practice was better than his belief.

We can well conceive how the Reformer may have impressed the imagination of many on his appearance in Berwick as a preacher of the Gospel. His reputation and his sufferings would have gone before him. Here was the man who had spent nineteen months as a slave in the French galleys for his religious convictions, who was recognised as the representative Scotsman on the Protestant side, the man on whose shoulders had fallen the mantle of Wishart, and who had worsted in argument the doctors and dignitaries of the Romish Church. His fame as a preacher, too, would have gone before him, and it is not at all unlikely that for these very reasons he would be looked upon with interest, and would appeal to the female mind and heart. In any case he had not been long in Berwick when he drew to his side one who clung to him during the rest of her life, and to whom he was indeed a spiritual adviser and comforter.

This admirer was Mrs. Elizabeth Bowes, wife of Richard Bowes, Governor of the Castle of Norham. She would seem to have been one of those women who are affected by a spirit of religious melancholy bordering almost on morbidness. She had many temptations real or imaginary, and tortured herself by introspection, and was in constant doubt as to her own ultimate salvation. Such a woman found in Knox that strong tower and refuge which her soul desired, and between them there sprang up a close fellowship which was only broken by death. "Great familiarity," he himself declared, "and long acquaintance, the cause of which was neither flesh nor blood but a troubled conscience upon her part, which never suffered her to rest but when she was in the company of the faithful, and who (from the first hearing of the word in my mouth) she judged me to be one." That is Knox's own explanation of the intimate relation that existed between them, and, we must admit, a very satisfactory one. "I have always delighted," he afterwards said, "in your company, and, when labours would permit, you know I have not spared hours of talk and commune with you." For years he listened with sympathy to her various complaints, and when absent answered all her questions in a kindly and painstaking manner.

It is not strange that occasionally he felt somewhat impatient, and replied to her as follows: "My daily labours must now increase, and therefore spare me as much as you may. My old malady troubles me sore, and nothing is more contrary to my health than writing." Knox here refers to the disease which he contracted while in the French galleys. It interfered not a little with his labours, and he suffered from the effects of it to his dying day.

It ought to be remembered when reading of the outpourings of Mrs. Bowes that both she and Knox had but recently severed their connection with the Roman Catholic Church, where confession was a recognised and long-standing usage. It was the custom then, as it still is in the Roman Catholic Church, for those afflicted by a troubled conscience to pour out their "dolours" to their father confessor. We can quite understand how difficult it would be for those who but a year or two ago had been members of that Church to break away from the custom. This will account for such a confidence as the following on the part of Knox to Mrs. Bowes: "Call to mind," he says, "what I did standing at a cupboard in Alnwick. In very deed I thought that no creature had been tempted as I was." But the wife of Richard Bowes was anxious that the relation between her family and Knox should be closer than that of mere friendship, and she favoured the proposal that Marjory, her fifth daughter, and one of a family of twelve, a girl still in her teens, should marry Knox. The Reformer himself was quite eager that this proposal should be carried out, and in due time he became betrothed to Marjory Bowes and subsequently married her.

But all this did not take place without very considerable trouble, and more than once it almost seemed as if Knox's hopes would have suffered shipwreck. The Bowes family did not regard the union with approval. Richard Bowes himself was still a Roman Catholic, and on that account and for other reasons he endeavoured to stop the match. Knox was a man of uncertain prospects, his refusal of a bishopric and an important vicarage made him to be regarded as somewhat impracticable, nor was he quite young, and his family could not boast of the lineage of that of Richard Bowes, the Governor of Norham Castle. But Knox was persistent, and so was his future mother-in-law, and the Reformer declared after some rebuffs which she experienced that it should now be "his business." "It behoved him," he says, "to jeopard his life for the comfort of his own flesh, both fear and friendship of all earthly creatures laid aside."

He accordingly interviewed Sir Robert Bowes, the head of the house and the bride's uncle, in London. He got, however, a very cold reception. He found Sir Robert not only a despiser but also a taunter of `God's messengers,' "God be merciful unto him." Knox stood firm and "kept a good countenance, but the despiteful words had so pierced his heart that his life was bitter unto him." After this plainly unfavourable reception he seemed almost to have lost heart. Yet during his last month in England almost, when dangers were thickening round him, he undertook a perilous journey to Newcastle in the hope of seeing Mrs. Bowes and Marjory, but he had to leave the country without an interview.

When he revisited it, however, it was to take back to the Continent the daughter as his bride. This Marjory figures now and again in Knox's history, and always in a favourable light. There are those who declare that she married Knox because her mother wished it, or because her imagination was fired by the sufferings of the Reformer and by the halo of sanctity which surrounded him. There might be worse reasons for marriage, although we are not inclined to admit that these were the sole motives which induced her to become Knox's wife. She proved faithful and devoted, and earned the praise of Calvin, and, after her death, the sorrowful regret of her husband.

These were not the only female friends that Knox had. He had several in Edinburgh, and he corresponded with then regularly after his first visit to his native country. It would seem, however, that he was not specially enamoured with his "Edinburgh sisters," as he calls them, and somewhat bluntly remarks in one of his letters that his communications were not intended for any one individually, that what he wrote to one was meant for all. We cannot fail to be impressed by his patience in listening to the complaints of these Edinburgh sisters, and in answering their questions regarding, among other things, the kind of dress that females ought to wear. He replies at great length to such queries, writing, if not a treatise, certainly a pamphlet on the subject. One of them, Mrs. Afackgil, wife of the Clerk Register, would seem to have been troubled by the fact that her husband was still an enemy to the Reformation, and by her scruples as to how she should conduct herself towards him. Knox's views on a delicate point of this kind were very cautious and prudent, but he naturally inclined to the opinion that the Clerk Register would have been more worthy of the respect and obedience of his wife had he been a Protestant.

But the woman in whose friendship he would seem to have found the most satisfaction was Mrs. Anne Locke, the wife of a merchant in Cheapside, London. It is possible that she was the one of the three women who, on hearing a letter of Mrs. Bowes read in their presence, exclaimed, "Oh! would to God I might speak with that person, for I perceive there are more tempted than I." Mrs. Hickman, the wife of another merchant, would also seem to have shown Knox much kindness during his stay in London, but it was Mrs. Locke who proved his most valued and confidential friend. For the next ten years he corresponded with her regularly, telling her of the progress of the Reformation in Scotland, asking her to procure books for him, and at the same time giving her that spiritual guidance which she desired.

It is in a letter to her that the following sentence occurs, which is one of the clearest bits of self-revelation in which Knox ever indulged: "Of nature," he says, "I am churlish, and in conditions different from many, yet one thing I ashame not to affirm, that familiarity once thoroughly contracted was never yet broken of my default. the cause may be that I have rather need of all than that any have need of me."

It was towards the end of February or the beginning of March, 1554, that Knox left England. He would seem to have gone direct to Dieppe. He chose this place possibly because he would be within reach of his old congregations, in whose spiritual welfare he ever continued to be deeply interested. One of the first things which he did on his arrival at the French seaport was to finish his treatise on the Sixth Psalm, which he was composing for the benefit of Mrs. Bowes, and to despatch it to her. He thereafter set himself to address words of exhortation and comfort to his old flock in England.

This production, which was afterwards published under the title of A Godly Letter to the Faithful in London, Newca.9tle, and Berwick-, is spirited and eloquent, and shows Knox at his best. He harks back on his old subject of the idolatry of the Romish Church, and, afraid lest they should revert to their old belief, he warns them of the plagues that would visit them, and encourages them to adhere to their former profession.

One is not a little surprised at the optimism which underlies this address, for really the times were far from promising for the new religion. Mary of England had begun to persecute and burn the faithful. Henry ii. of France was setting himself to stamp out the new religion, and Mary of Lorraine had made Scotland an impossible harbour for those who had accepted the Protestant Faith. It is very remarkable how, all through, Knox's courage and hopes of final victory would never seem to have left him. He may have been reminded by his present surroundings of the dark days when, as a galley slave, sick and sad at heart, he looked on these same shores of France, and how the Almighty had at last delivered him and given him a great work to do in England. The remembrance of this would no doubt strengthen his faith, and add to his old conviction that he would one day lift up his voice in that kirk where by the mercy of God he had first been called to preach the evangel.

He did not stay long in Dieppe, but left it, as he remarks, with a "sore troubled heart, journeying whither God knoweth." For two months he travelled from one place to another, chiefly in

Switzerland, reasoning with the "pastors and many other excellent learned men upon such matters as now I cannot commit to writing." Everywhere he was received as a friend and as a brother. The two most distinguished men whose acquaintance he made at this time were Calvin and Bullinger. Knox was familiar with the writings of these men, and he held them both, but particularly the first, in great respect. Calvin had not at this time attained the position which he afterwards occupied as a leader in the Reformed Church, but he was already recognised as one of its chief men, and Knox even at that time characterises him as that "singular instrument of God."

Knox's knowledge of the political and religious circumstances that prevailed in Europe, and chiefly in England and Scotland, suggested to him several very important and far-reaching questions which he would seem to have freely discussed with Calvin, and about which he desired his opinion. These questions really formed the basis of Knox's subsequent action as the leader of the Reformation in Scotland, and at this early date, in absolute independence of Calvin and others, he pondered over and subsequently solved them to his own satisfaction, and to the benefit of his native country and the world.

He shortly afterwards left Geneva, and passed to Zurich with a letter of introduction from Calvin to Bullinger. His interview with the Swiss Reformer had for its main object the discussion of the very questions about which he and Calvin had conversed. In a letter of Bullinger's these questions with his answers are fortunately preserved for us. They are four in number. The first refers to the legality of the government of Edward vi., seeing that the King was a minor; the second relates to female rule; the third raises the question of the submission of the subject to a magistrate who forces idolatry and who condemns true religion; and the fourth anticipates the situation in Scotland, and asks what godly persons should do when a religious nobility rises up against an idolatrous sovereign. Anyone can see that in these questions Knox raised the whole religious and civil revolution of that and subsequent times in Scotch and English history. They contain within them the dethronement of Queen Mary and the execution of Charles I.

It is absurd in the face of them to speak of Knox's subjection to Calvin or any other. The dictator of Geneva was a systematic theologian and biblical exegete of the first rank, but his mind had not the political penetration and sweep of Knox's, nor was he as capable as the latter of dealing with practical difficulties on a large scale. Bullinger's opinions are sensible and cautious, but his attitude was quite incapable of meeting the circumstances that soon arose in the life of Knox and in his work in Scotland.

In the month of May Knox was again at Dieppe. It is probable that he visited the sea-coast town in the hope of learning some news of England. The persecution in that country had almost reached its full height; Ridley, Latimer, and Cranmer were in prison, one or two notable men had been executed, and Mary's marriage with Philip of Spain was imminent. Knox thought of visiting England to "let men see what may be done with a safe conscience . in these dolorous and dangerous days," but the fear of what might happen, not so much to himself as to others, restrained him. He contented himself, meanwhile, with writing two letters to his afflicted brethren in England, telling them not to despair, but to take courage from the experiences of the Church which in past days had gone through similar trials.

But the most notable production penned by him during these weary and anxious days at Dieppe was his Faithful Admonition to the Professors of God's Truth in England. This pamphlet has been sharply criticised and strongly condemned for its harsh judgments, but it should not be forgotten that it was written under trying and tragic circumstances. The fires of Smithfield were already ablaze, the prisons were packed with leading preachers, and the Reformation was to all appearances to be ruthlessly trampled under foot in England. What wonder that Knox's heart was on fire, and that he cried out for vengeance on the "Devil's Gardiner," and "Bloody Bonner," who, as "blind buzzards and bloodthirsty wolves," were hunting God's servants to their doom.

The most Reverend Fathers in God, the Bishops of Winchester and London, who were thus characterised, might possibly object to the terms which Knox hurled at them ; and so night Queen Mary, whom he described as "Athaliah" and "Herodias' daughter," and denounced as "false," "dissembling," "inconstant, proud, and a breaker of promises," "the utter mischief of England." One passage, however, which he probably thought little of at the time, afterwards, we shall see, brought him into serious trouble. It is where he describes Charles v. as "no less enemy to Christ than ever was Nero." He forgot that the Emperor whom he thus denounced held in his hands the fate of the Protestants in the vast dominions which he ruled, and where Knox himself was soon to be a subject. They were recalled to his memory at a time when he least expected it.

Of course it is easy to condemn Knox for his strong, imprudent, and, in some respects perhaps, unjust language, but knowing the man and the times shall we condemn him? Had he been the creature of compromise, and a speaker of soft words, the Reformation in Scotland, for one thing, would never have been accomplished. Grant that his pamphlet did not make the position of the Protestant party in England easier, and that they had some ground for blaming him afterwards for its publication, still it required a man like Knox to speak the truth, even though in terms of exaggeration, and to appeal to the imagination of the people by his graphic and epigrammatic language. In judging of Knox in this and in other respects we should do so in relation to his times. The age was not one which indulged in smooth things, either in word or action, and controversy was conducted not by rapier thrusts but by sword blows. In these more tolerant days his pamphlet may appear rough and harsh, but by the men of his own day it would not be characterised in that fashion.


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