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John Knox, A Biography
Chapter XIX - The Triumph of Knox

IT was during these months, when Knox was absent, that the plot was hatched for the murder of Rizzio. Morton declares that the Reformer had "neither art nor part " in it. That we can well believe. He did not love the shedding of blood, and no one ever suffered the last penalty because of him. He despised Rizzio, speaks contemptuously of him as that "vile knave Davie," that "great abuser of this commonwealth," and he would have been quite willing that the country should be got rid of him by a fair and open trial. But that was not the way of the Scottish nobles at that time. Assassination was openly accepted as a legitimate method of getting quit of a dangerous or obnoxious opponent. Rizzio had made himself intolerable by his arrogance, and Mary acted with the most fatal imprudence in showering favours on him and raising him to the highest position at the Court. Her marked preference for him also roused the jealousy of her husband, Darnley, who entered into the plot with the Earl of Morton, Lord Lindsay, and the Lord Ruthven to get rid of the Italian adventurer at whatever cost. The murder took place on the evening of Saturday the 9th of March. Darnley entered the Queen's Cabinet, where she was at supper with Rizzio and her half-sister, the Countess of Argyle. The King was soon followed by Ruthven, and he by others, and Rizzio was done to death before Mary's very eyes.

Little was gained at the time by those who were most active in the plot. Mary acted with great determination. She at once talked Darnley over, detached him from the rest of the conspirators, and escaped with him to Dunbar. A week after she returned to the capital (18th of March) with a considerable following, and surrounded by the Catholic and several of the Protestant Lords. Mary's energy and courage on this occasion were worthy of the race from which she sprang. Shortly after her arrival in the country, when fighting the Earl of Huntly, she expressed to the English Ambassador her regret that "she was not a man to know what life it was, to lie all night in the fields, or to walk on the causeway with a jack and knapschalle, a Glasgow buckler and a broadsword."

In place of weakening Mary's position and strengthening that of Darnley by the murder of Rizzio, Morton and his fellow-conspirators found that they had accomplished quite the reverse. The Queen had talked over her weak husband, but she despised him heartily for his recent conduct, and her contempt for him was soon to pass into hatred. His fellow-accomplices also turned upon him, for he had betrayed them to the Queen. They sought safety in flight. The Protestant cause now lacked the support which the presence of its chief leaders would have given it, and Mary and the Catholic party were accordingly in the ascendant.

Knox at this time also left the capital. On the 17th of March 1566 he turned his steps towards Ayrshire, departing "of the burgh at two hours afternoon with a great mourning of the godly of religion." Five days before he had penned, "with deliberate mind to his God," his famous Confession, prefacing it with the prayer, "Lord Jesus receive my spirit, and put an end at Thy good pleasure to this my miserable life, for justice and truth are not to be found among the sons of men." In the month of June an event of great national importance took place. On the 19th of that month Mary gave birth to a son in the Castle of Edinburgh. This child had a great destiny before him. It was reserved for him to realise the dream of his mother: the union, under him as monarch, of the two kingdoms of England and Scotland.

The quarrel between Mary and Darnley grew more bitter, and became a scandal to the whole of Europe. The Queen, who would seem never to have been able to continue for any length of time without committing her heart to the care of someone, how ever unworthy, began now to look with favour upon the Earl of Bothwell, who was ultimately to prove her ruin. He was a noble of the swash-buckler order, rash and venturesome, and the very last man to guide with wisdom the troubled affairs of Scotland. In the eyes of Knox he possessed two redeeming qualities: he was a Protestant, and the head of the House to which Knox's family were feudally related. It was probably for these reasons that he used his influence on behalf of the Reformed Church. Certainly while he was in favour better treatment was meted out to the ministers, who received as a gift, but not as a right, a part of their stipends.

On the 23rd of December an event took place which caused the greatest consternation among the Protestants. On that date the Archbishop of St. Andrews was restored to full Consistorial jurisdiction. The General Assembly which met in December instructed Knox to rouse the Protestant nobles to a sense of the great danger that threatened them, and lie also wrote an epistle, on his own account, to the adherents of Protestantism throughout the country, awakening them to a full realisation of the significance of the act which the Queen had done. At the same Assembly Knox was commissioned to "address a letter to the pastors and bishops of England, in which in name of the Reformed Scottish Church he besought them to deal tenderly with the consciences of their brethren." He at the same time determined to visit England. The object of his journey was partly, no doubt, to commune with and strengthen those who were being troubled by recent ecclesiastical enactments, chiefly affecting ritual. No record is left of this journey, but he would most likely visit Berwick, possibly Newcastle, and other places associated with his early ministry in the sister kingdom.

Knox had much need of this holiday, for since his return to Scotland, seven years before, he had laboured with an energy, zeal, and perseverance that would have taxed a much stronger constitution than his. He had taken the foremost part in carrying through the Reformation, with its accompanying Revolution; and in addition to his multifarious labours as preacher of the Gospel and minister of St. Giles', he had to carry the heavy responsibility of initiating and guiding the course of events towards a definite end. For several years, when deserted by his old associates, he had to fight the battle of Protestantism with almost no man of mark behind him; and were it not that he had roused the commons of Scotland to a sense of their religious and civil birthright, the cause which he championed must have been lost. With a wise prescience he fostered the Protestant religion in the chief towns and counties, and when, shortly after this date, the decision as to which religion was to triumph had to be taken, public opinion was found to be on his side. His duties as minister of Edinburgh were in themselves sufficient for any ordinary man. When we consider the number of sermons that he preached weekly, their inordinate length, the meetings of his elders and deacons which he faithfully attended, the demands made upon his time and thought by seekers after truth, and others who were troubled in their conscience or by domestic or worldly affairs, our surprise is that he was able to bear up under it all, and to perform his various tasks not only with faithfulness but distinction.

But during all these years, indeed ever since 1559, he had another work on hand, one that in itself would have been sufficient for an ordinary man: that was the writing of his famous History of the Reformation. After the Lords of the Congregation had set themselves seriously to the reform of religion they found that their purpose and conduct were being misrepresented. Foreign nations were forming false opinions of them, through garbled reports sent by unfriendly hands. The leaders of the movement felt it to be their duty to put themselves right in the eyes of the world, and commissioned Knox to do this for them by giving a faithful account, day by day, of their proceedings. This he did in the second and third books of his History. In addition he wrote an introductory book and also a supplementary one, the first and fourth. It is fortunate for us that he did so, for they are by far the most interesting. In the first we get the measure of the author as an historian, and in the fourth his personality is fully revealed. Were it not for the latter book Knox would not be the man he is in the hearts of Scotsmen. It is unconsciously autobiographical; and the vivid, forcible, and, at times, humorous sketches which he gives of incidents, characters, and encounters of a warlike and more pacific nature, make the period and the men that he describes live before us. It is not at all unlikely that he gave the finishing touches to his History while he was in England. In any case, during his stay a few months earlier in Kyle he wrote the preface to the fourth book. The fifth book was not written by him. He may have prepared the notes for it, but in its actual composition he had no part.

While Knox was absent in England events of the first importance were happening in Scotland. The breach between Mary and Darnley had become wider, the relations between the Queen and Bothwell closer, and the final outcome was the murder of the Kin; at Kirk o' Field, near Edinburgh, on the 10th of February 1567. This dreadful crime caused the utmost consternation. Suspicion at once fixed on Bothwell, and his marriage with Mary on the 15th of May implicated her also in the tragedy. The national sense was shocked by this union. To make their marriage possible Bothwell had to procure a divorce from his wife, and as this was obtained from the Archbishop of St. Andrews the reason for the restoration of the Consistorial powers of that prelate was at once seen. The nobles rose up in revolt against Mary and Bothwell, took the former prisoner at Carberry Hill, led her to Edinburgh amid the scoffs and jeers of the populace, and finally on the 16th of June confined her in Loch Leven Castle, where she remained till the 2nd of May 1568, when she made her escape. Both Mary and Bothwell were believed by the people to be guilty of the murder of Darnley. This conviction thoroughly roused the commons, who judged her condemned by the laws of God and of the nation. Knox's strenuous labours now bore fruit in the injured conscience of the community; and while the nobles for the most part were inclined to forgive and forget, the people would do neither, but were determined that no one suspected of murder, and who afterwards married her paramour, should reign over them.

The country was now without any government, and the only body that could act was the General Assembly. It was convened to meet on the 25th of June, and Knox returned from England in order to be present, but as the attendance was small it was decided that another meeting should be held on the 26th of July. No Assembly of equal importance had been held since the Reformed religion had been set up. It was the channel through which the national mind was to express itself, and upon it hung the fate of Mary. It must have appeared to Knox that all for which he had been so long contending was to be achieved at last. He held the Queen to be guilty, and stirred the people to a sense of her iniquity and of the national shame which that inquity entailed. The Assembly, so far as its power went, dethroned Mary, reaffirmed the Acts of 1560 establishing the new religion, and received an assurance from the Lords present that at the first meeting of the Estates Parliamentary assent should be given to all that had been done in the interests of the Church.

Knox's triumph was not yet absolute. The final victory was won when, on the 29th of July, the infant Prince was crowned at Stirling, Knox preaching the sermon. On the 2nd of August the Earl of Moray returned to act as Regent. The government of the country was now in capable hands; and Knox, between whom and the Earl the old friendship was resumed, would feel that the Reformed religion had triumphed at last. Parliament met on the 15th of December; Knox preached the opening sermon, and the Estates ratified afresh all that the Reformer had contended for. Knox and his colleagues put forth their whole strength to rally the people round the new government, and their efforts met with so marked success that those nobles who had stood aloof were compelled to come in and support the government of the Regent. Indeed, matters looked so promising that the Assembly which met on the 25th of December was able to write in the following hopeful strain to John Willock, then in England, and whom they invited to return to Scotland to take his share in the task that was almost completed: "Our enemies, praise be God, are dashed, religion established, sufficient provision made for ministers, order taken and penalty appointed for all sort of transgression and transgressors. And above all, a godly magistrate, whom God of His Eternal and heavenly Providence bath reserved to this age to put in execution whatsoever He by His law commandeth."

Although the cause of the Reformation was practically won, there were many serious troubles ahead which the writers of this optimistic letter did not foresee. Moray's government after all was very unstable. Though it was "broad-based upon the people's will," it had many secret and open foes to contend against both in Scotland and in England. The Hamiltons could never forgive Moray the slight cast upon their House by his Regency, and Elizabeth was not in a mood to support those whom she regarded as rebels against their Queen.

Mary's party were far from idle, and on the 2nd of May 1568 they contrived her escape from Loch Leven Castle. The Battle of Langside was fought a fortnight afterwards; Mary was a fugitive in England, and Moray's triumph seemed complete. Knox, however, was not so hopeful. In letters written by him at this time traces are found not only of pessimism regarding the future of his country, but of decaying strength in himself. Until now his outlook had remained hopeful, but old age was claiming him at last, and with it came that lack of energy which advancing years usually bring. His forebodings were fulfilled in the assassination of the Regent on the 23rd of January 1570, and his grief was intensified by the fact that the assassin, Hamilton of Bothwellhaugh, had been pardoned by the Regent on his intercession. At the funeral of Moray Knox preached the sermon from the text, "Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord," and it is recorded that he moved " three thousand persons to shed tears for the loss of such a good and godly governor."

The death of Moray was indeed irreparable to the country, and particularly to Knox. He was the spiritual child of the Reformer; his splendid powers had grown and developed under the approving eye of Knox. They were bound together by a common cause and hope. In their patriotism and policy, religion and character, they were one. Moray was a born ruler, his prudence equalled his judgment, and his energy was only outstripped by his zeal. Scotland does well to remember him; and the popular judgment, which in the end seldom errs, has ever regarded him as the "Good Regent."

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