Search just our sites by using our customised search engine

Unique Cottages | Electric Scotland's Classified Directory

Click here to get a Printer Friendly PageSmiley

John Knox, A Biography
Chapter XIII - End of the Revolution

IN considering the position of the opposing parties we find that the Congregation though strong in numbers were poor in resources. Their good men were for the most part "country fellows," untrained and undisciplined. It was the 16th of October before they could join their leaders in their march on Edinburgh, for the harvest was late that year. In a few weeks their farms and crofts would again demand their attention, for they would require to prepare the ground for the harvest of the following year. Unless immediate action could be taken there was every prospect of a fresh dispersion. Nor could the Lords of the Congregation hold out any prospects to them; they had no money. Knox knew this, and in a letter to Cecil he pleads for financial support: "For albeit," he says, "that money by the adversary party largely offered could not corrupt them, yet should extreme poverty compel them to remain at home; for they are so super-expended already that they are not able to bear out their train, and the same thing I write unto you again requiring you to signify the same to such as tender the furtherance of this cause." The Regent, on the other hand, had a compact and well-equipped army, protected in Leith by walls and forts, and duly supplied with all the materials of war. The struggle indeed on these terms was hopeless, and this the Congregation very soon found out.

They began with a war of Proclamations, which came to nothing. The only possible good these could do was to keep the Lords of the Congregation formally right. On the 21st of October, only five days after their occupation of the capital, the Protestants took the extreme step of deposing the Queen Regent. The course of events necessarily led up to this, and the Proclamation which was published vindicating their action was composed with great deliberation and very deftly done. The remarkable feature about it was its practical omission of any reference to the Reformation of Religion. The reason put forth was the unconstitutional government of the Regent, the tyranny of the French, the robbery of the people and the degradation of the country. The appeal was not to the religion but to the patriotism of the people.

Mr. Andrew Lang, contrasting this Proclamation with its predecessors, traces in it the hand of Maitland of Lethington. That astute politician had not as yet thrown in his lot with the Protestant party, although he was soon to do so. Some think that Knox was put into the background and that his views were overruled. We do not think so. He was not such a fanatic as to wreck the Reformation by refusing to take advantage of any move in the game that would help his cause. rfhe appeal to religion had already gathered round the revolutionists a very considerable proportion of the nation, and it was only common prudence, in this Proclamation, to appeal to other sections of the nation, even to Catholics who felt indignant at the present degradation and threatened subversion of their country. Besides, the Protestants were eagerly soliciting the assistance of Elizabeth, and they had to consider the ground on which she would be most ready to give her support. We can well believe that this Manifesto was issued with Knox's approval, and we have no reason, except the opinion of inimical historians, to think otherwise.

It may have seemed a bold thing for the Congregation to depose the Regent, but from Knox's well-known opinions, already discussed, there will be no surprise felt at his action in the matter. He and Willock were consulted, and they gave the proposal their heartiest approval. Knox would have no scruples whatsoever in supporting the action of his lay friends. He was, as we have seen, a pupil of John Major, who declared that a "free people first gives strength to a King whose power depends upon the whole people," and that "a people can discard or depose a King and his children for misconduct just as it appointed him at first." These views had been advocated by Knox, and when the time came he did not hesitate to put them into force. We do not think them revolutionary now, though they were far in advance of the opinions generally held in his day. Upon them every free, government, our own included, is now based.

There is one statement in this Proclamation which has caused some surprise. That is where the Protestant Lords declare that they depose the Queen Regent by the authority of their lawful sovereigns. This, on the face of it, was taking a good deal for granted; but the explanation is found in the fact that these men naturally held that their lawful sovereigns would govern lawfully, which the Queen Regent was not doing, and it was at the same time an indication that, whoever the sovereign or governor might be, they would be quite justified on the authority of the Constitution to do unto him or her what they had now done to the Regent. In our judgment this taking the name of their lawful sovereigns in vain was the most significant feature in the whole Proclamation, and was prophetic of the vindication of the rights and liberty of subjects in relation to all rulers whatsoever.

The Protestant party soon discovered that the subjugation of Leith was no easy task. The support which they asked from England was not granted, if we except an instalment of one thousand pounds which Elizabeth sent them. This, unfortunately, never reached their hands, for it was seized by the Earl of Bothwell on its way. Fresh misfortunes followed. The French, making a sortie from Leith, drove the army of the Congregation down the Canon gate into Edinburgh, and a further defeat on the 5th of November made them feel that their position was unsafe and hopeless. "From that day," says Knox, "the courage of many was dejected, with great difficulty could men be retained in the town; yea some of the greatest estimation determined with themselves to leave the enterprise, many fled away secretly, and those that did abide appeared destitute of counsel and manhood."

The one man who did not lose heart was Knox himself : his labours at this time were far beyond his strength. Along with Willock he preached daily in St. Giles' to crowded congregations, stirring their enthusiasm and holding together the different members of a party that constantly seemed on the eve of a final and fatal disruption. His wife, who had joined him, assisted him in his secretarial work. "The rest of my wife," he says, "has been so unrestful since her arriving, that scarcely could she tell upon the morrow what she wrote at night." His movements were closely watched, and a large sum promised for his head; but in spite of all he lost "no jot of hope or heart," but in the darkest hour of his party's fortune encouraged them with his own optimism.

It was at this time that he wrote a letter to Sir James Crofts which has been made the subject of sharp criticism. A recent historian joyfully seizes on it in proof of his contention that the morality of Knox the preacher was inferior to that of Crofts the politician, and a biographer of the Reformer bemoans it as the one blot on his public career. It does not seem to us so terrible after all. When the Congregation were in their darkest hour Knox appealed to Crofts for help. Knowing it was the object of Elizabeth not to offend France, he suggested that the soldiers whom he sought to be sent across the border might be regarded by the English as rebels to their realm. Elizabeth, who was in the habit of making promises which she never intended to fulfil, and of refusing what she had fully made up her mind to grant, would regard this counsel as venial in the extreme; and when we consider the craft that was practised on all hands, by almost everyone who held important political posts, Knox's suggestion cannot appear so dreadful.

It was at this time that Maitland of Lethington joined the Congregation. Knox welcomed him because of his proved ability and influence, and also for the relief that he would bring, because Lethington undertook the duties of secretary for which by nature and training he was better fitted than Knox. rfhe Lords of the Congregation, against the advice of Maitland, determined to quit Edinburgh, and they left amidst the jeers of the populace. "The despiteful tongues of the wicked railed upon us, calling us traitors and heretics, everyone proyoked other to cast stones at us, and thus as a sword of dolour passed through our hearts, so were the cogitations and former determinations of many hearts then revealed." But it was Knox again who revived their drooping spirits, for after they arrived at Stirling he preached a sermon which was long remembered by everyone who heard it, for he declared, "Whatever shall become of us and our mortal bodies I doubt not that but this cause (notwithstanding the enmity of Satan) shall prevail in the realm, for as it is the eternal truth of the Eternal God, so shall it finally prevail though it be resisted for a season. It may be that God shall plague some because they do not relish the truth, though from worldly motives they pretend to favour it, yea God may take some of His dearest children away before their eyes see greater calamities, but neither the one nor the other shall so hinder this cause but that in the end it shall triumph." A council of the Congregation was held shortly after they came to Stirling: the journey of Maitland to England to win over Elizabeth to their cause was its object. It was determined that Maitland should go, and this decision was the turning-point in the fortunes of the Congregation.

Shortly after the despatch of Maitland the Congregation determined to divide themselves into two companies, one of which should make Glasgow its centre and the other St. Andrews. To the former city went Chatelherault, Glencairn, and Argyle, and to the latter the Lord James, Arran, Lord Ruthven, Kirkcaldy of Grange, and Knox. The Reformer acted as secretary to his party. He would appear at this time to have taken less active interest in the revolution than during its earlier periods. The reason was that the Lords of the Congregation were now basing their action on the threatened invasion of France. The Reformation of Religion was put into the background. It was their desire to draw into their net as large a number as possible, and for this purpose they made it of different meshes. Towards the close of the year they met in Stirling for the purpose of considering a letter from Maitland, who wished to receive further instructions regarding his mission to England. The Queen Regent heard of this gathering, and a force was sent under D'Oysel to attack it. The Congregation heard of the movement and made their escape. The French followed up their advantage and pursued them almost to the very gates of St. Andrews. Their march was stoutly contested, the Lord James, Arran, and Kirkcaldy particularly distinguishing themselves. "For twenty and one days," says Knox, "the first two lay in their clothes, their boots never came off, they had skirmishing almost every day, yea some days from morn to eve." The Queen Regent thought that her triumph was at hand, and exclaimed, "Where is now John Knox, his God! My God is now stronger than his, yea even in Fife."

Although Knox could take no part in the actual warfare that was being waged, he was by no means idle. He had tip to this time, while in St. Andrews, employed his leisure in the writing of his History, and when the fortune of his party seemed almost hopeless he again rose to the occasion, and in Cupar preached a sermon that put fresh heart into them. Maitland was also busy, and his patient diplomacy was about to be crowned with success. He was the one man in Scotland fitted for the task which he was discharging. He was friendly with Cecil, a favourite with Elizabeth, and a lover of his country. He believed in a union with England, and he brought all his well-known and exceptional talents to bear upon its accomplishment. Elizabeth hesitated, changed her mind, but at last yielded. Hence was it that the French, while engaged with that section of the Congregation that occupied Fife, were surprised when crossing the river Leven on the 23rd of January 1560 to see a fleet in the Firth of Forth. They took it to be the promised fleet expected from France, but their fond hopes were dispelled on finding that two ships which were being despatched to them with supplies were seized. They then discovered that the vessels were English. D'Oysel beat a hasty retreat towards Stirling. The country rose up behind him, and he was hotly pursued by those who had suffered so harshly at his hands. He rested not until he reached Linlithgow, and did not feel. himself safe until he found shelter behind the fortifications of Leith.

This was only one result of Maitland's mission, the other was the despatch to Scotland of an English army. But before this could be finally agreed on it was necessary that a bond should be entered into between the Lords of the Congregation and their English allies. For this purpose Norfolk was sent to the north of England, and it was proposed that a meeting should take place between him and representatives of the Congregation. The party under the Duke of Chatelherault arranged to meet Norfolk at Carlisle, but Knox disapproved of this. He wrote a strong letter to the Duke, accusing him at the same time of slackness in the cause. It was accordingly agreed that a meeting should take place at Berwick-on-Tweed, and on the 27th of February an Agreement was come to by which England and the Lords of the Congregation mutually bound themselves against the French. The forces of the Queen Regent, to the number of over two thousand, made one supreme effort to overthrow the Congregation. Their attack on St. Andrews having failed they marched on Glasgow. The Protestant party in that city fled to Hamilton, and the French after working their will on Glasgow returned to Leith. The Queen Regent, whose health was declining, and whose outlook was now becoming almost hopeless, received permission to leave Leith and take refuge in the Castle of Edinburgh.

The Protestant leaders made strenuous efforts to rouse the whole country. With this object they issued a fresh Proclamation, in which no mention was made of the Reform of Religion. Their appeal was only partially successful, and with the forces at their command .they joined the English who had now arrived at Leith. The joint armies numbered between nine thousand and ten thousand men. It was a new experience in the history of both countries to see their armies united in a common action. Men could hardly believe their eyes on seeing the Scotch and the English soldiers amicably entertaining each other. Indeed it was the suspicion in the minds of many Scotsmen that Elizabeth had some sinister object in view which kept them from joining the Congregation. They were afraid that the English, supposing the French were driven out of the country, would take their place. Even the Congregation had a dread lest they might be overreached and terms be agreed on by friends and foes alike, which in the end might prove injurious to them. It was perhaps more for the purpose of keeping themselves right in the eye of the Constitution, than from any hope of being successful, that a final appeal was made to the Regent to dismiss the Frenchmen and govern according to the laws of the realm. Nothing of course came of this last effort.

The allied armies now attempted to penetrate the fortifications of Leith, but with very unfortunate results. They were repulsed with considerable loss. Knox relates some stories that were spread abroad, retailing the conduct and words of the Queen Regent after one of these repulses. " Now will I go to the Mass and praise God for that which my eyes have seen," he reports her to have said; and again, when the French laid the dead bodies of the Scotch and English along their wall, she is alleged to have exclaimed: "Yonder is the fairest tapestry that ever I saw." Some doubt is cast on the truth of these reports by the fact that Edinburgh Castle was too distant from the walls of Leith to enable anyone to distinguish very clearly between dead bodies and living ones, and the poor Queen Regent's health must have been too low to permit her to view such scenes or to remark upon them with sarcasm.

Emissaries were passing to and fro between the French and English camps for the purpose of breaking up the compact between the English and the Scotch. The Protestant leaders, afraid lest dissension might be sown among their own ranks, drew up a new bond of mutual adhesion which Huntly and Morton among others signed. These two earls were powerful additions to their ranks, and the fact of their going over to the Protestant party showed in which direction the tide of success was beginning to flow. None of the combatants were at all anxious to prolong the struggle, indeed they were all eager for peace. The French Government had quite enough on its hands at home. Elizabeth grudged the expense, and the Congregation were afraid of the dispersion of their followers. The death of the Regent, which took place on the 10th of June, brought matters to a crisis, and six days later Commissioners arrived from England and France for the purpose of drawing up terms of agreement.

The portrait which Knox draws of Mary of Guise is by no means flattering. "Unhappy from the first day she entered into the kingdom unto the day she departed this life," is his judgment; and he adds, "God for His great mercy's sake rid us from the rest of the Guisian blood. Amen, amen." From his point of view the judgment which he thus passes upon her life is defensible enough. She represented to him that " seed of Anti-Christ " which he believed it was his commission to uproot and destroy. It should not be forgotten that this very year, in the month of March 1560, many French Protestants, some of them men of distinction, had been done to death through the instrumentality of her brother the Cardinal, and that he, with Francis ii. and his young Queen, Mary Stuart, looked from their palace windows at the torments of these poor wretches. Nor could Knox ever forget the cruelty which he had suffered at the hands of the French, or the degradation of his country of which they were the cause. He associated the Queen Regent with all the evils, religious and civil, which Scotland had endured for the past generation. It was through her mainly that a nation whose friendship with Scotland was ancient and close had been turned into an enemy. In her defeat and death he saw the overthrow of all that his soul hated. It was not an age when men did things by halves; the struggle in which he was engaged was a deadly one, and his thorough conviction that he was fighting the battle of the Almighty justified him in triumphing over the defeat of those who were opposed to him.

But notwithstanding all this we cannot help thinking that Mary of Guise was not less blameworthy than misguided and unfortunate. Her attachment to her own family was so strong that she governed Scotland in their interests and in the interests of France. If she had thought less of her brothers and more of her own daughter she would have guided the affairs of the nation very differently. She alienated from herself not only the Protestants, but every rank and section of the people, by making Scotland an appanage of France. To serve her own ends she allowed the Congregation to grow in numbers and in influence, and to serve her own ends again she tried to destroy them. One cannot help feelings of regret for her, a foreign princess and a widow, surrounded by a nobility that was governed by strong and uncontrollable passions. She had tact and diplomacy, and was not without kindness of heart, but her ideal was false. She herself suffered for her errors, and left a heritage for her daughter which that unhappy Queen was quite incapable of managing aright.

The Treaty was signed at Edinburgh on the

6th of July, and by it the French were to leave Scotland, the fortifications of Leith were to be destroyed, a general pardon was to be granted, a Parliament was to assemble on the 10th of July and all its Acts were to be as legal as if it were presided over by the Queen herself. It is not quite clear what part Knox played in the last stage of the struggle. He was in Edinburgh during the siege of Leith, and from the account which he gives of it in his History it is evident that he was an eye-witness of much that took place. His sermons in St. Giles' and his commanding influence with the Congregation would all tell on the course of the conflict. He was necessarily debarred from taking part in the actual warfare and in the negotiations that led up to the final settlement. During the last stage it was the civil rather than the religious element that was adduced as the ground of the revolution, but it was he, and no other, who set the force in motion which in the end triumphed.

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