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John Knox
by A. Taylor Innes
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It had been necessary for Parliament to revoke its old persecuting statutes. And on that side it had gone farther, proscribing the old religion and Church, and setting up, if not a new church, at least a new religion. But, on another side, and one with which Parliament alone could deal, there was also something necessary. What was to be done with the huge endowments of the Church now abolished and proscribed? And what provision was to be made by the State for that 'maintenance of the true religion' to which it had bound itself, and for its spread among a people, half of whom were not even acquainted with it, though all of them were already bound to it by law?

The question of the endowments was a more difficult one, theoretically and practically, than that of the yearly tithes. For the former had been actual gifts, made to the Church or its officials by kings, barons, and other individuals, when there was no law compelling them to give them. What right had the State now to touch these? Two things are to be recalled before answer. All these individual donors had been by law compelled not only to be members of that Church, but to accept it (whether they wished to do so or not) as the exclusive receiver of whatever charities they might desire to institute or to bequeath. For many centuries past in Scotland the proposal to do otherwise would have been not only futile, but a deadly risk to him who tried it. Then, secondly, the same law which had bound the individual to the Church as the exclusive administrator of charities, had kept him in compulsory ignorance of other objects of munificence than those which the Church sanctioned; or if by chance that pious ignorance was broken, it sternly forbade him to support them. For reasons such as these the modern European state has never been able to treat ancient endowments made under the pressure of its own intolerance with the same respect as if the donors had been really free—free to know, and free to act. The presumption that the donor or testator, if he were living now, would have acted far otherwise than he did, and that in altering his destination the State may be carrying out what he really would have wished, is in such cases by no means without foundation. Knox and others reveal to us that this feeling was overwhelmingly strong at the time with which we are dealing, especially in the minds of the descendants and representatives of the donors themselves. And in the minds of the common people, and of Knox as one sprung from them, there was lying, unexpressed, the feeling which in modern times has been expressed so loudly, that the claim of the individual, whether superior or sovereign, to alienate for unworthy uses huge tracts of territory which carry along with them the lives and labours of masses of men—and of men who have never consented to it—is a claim doubtful in its origin and pernicious in its results. All over Protestant Europe the conclusion even of the wise and just was, that, subject to proper qualifications, the ancient endowments of the Church were now the treasury of the people.

But there was another part of the patrimony of the old Church on which Knox had a still stronger opinion—viz., the yearly tithes or Teinds. To these, in his view, that Church and its ministers had neither the divine right which they had claimed, nor any right at all. The 'commandment' of the State indeed had compelled men, often cruelly and unjustly, to pay them to the Church. But the State was now free to dispose of them better, and it was bound to dispose of them justly. And in so far as they should still be exacted at all, they must now be devoted to the most useful and the most charitable purposes—purposes which should certainly include the support of the ministry, but should include many other things too. One of the positions taken up by Knox in his very first sermon in St Andrews (following the views which he reports as held by the Lollards of Kyle), was, 'The teinds by God's law do not appertain of necessity to the Kirkmen.'[88] And now the Book of Discipline, under its head of 'The Rents and Patrimony of the Kirk,' demanded that

'Two sorts of men, that is to say, the ministers and the poor, together with the schools, when order shall be taken thereanent, must be sustained upon the charges of the church.'[89]

And again—

'Of the teinds must not only the ministers be sustained, but also the poor and schools.'

The kirk was now powerful, and the poor and the schools were weak; and Knox now as ever put forward the strong to champion those who could not help themselves. But he had long before come to the conclusion,[90] that of the classes here co-ordinated as having a right to the teinds, it was the right of the poor that was fundamental, and the claim of the ministers was secondary or ancillary, and perhaps only to be sustained in so far as they preached and distributed to the poor, or possibly only in so far as they were of, and represented, the poor. Accordingly the Assembly of 1562, in a Supplication, no doubt written by Knox, and certainly breathing what had been his spirit ever since the early days of Wishart, conjoins the cause of both in passionate eloquence:

'The Poor be of three sorts: the poor labourers of the ground; the poor desolate beggars, orphans, widows, and strangers; and the poor ministers of Christ Jesus His holy Evangel: which are all so cruelly treated.... For now the poor labourers of the ground are so oppressed by the cruelty of those that pay their Third, that they for the most part advance upon the poor whatsoever they pay to the Queen or to any other. As for the very indigent and poor, to whom God commands a sustentation to be provided of the Teinds, they are so despised that it is a wonder that the sun giveth light and heat to the earth where God's name is so frequently called upon, and no mercy, according to His commandment, shown to His creatures. And also for the ministers, their livings are so appointed, that the most part shall live but a beggar's life. And all cometh of that impiety—'[91]

The position that the 'patrimony of the Church' is fundamentally rather the 'patrimony of the poor,' and that ecclesiastics are merely its distributors, was anything but new. It is a commonplace[92] among the learned of the Catholic Church—the difference was that at this crisis it was possible for Scotland to act upon it, and that the state was urged to remember the poor by a man who, with all his devotion to God and to the other world, burned with compassion for the hard wrought labourers of his people. For it will be observed that here, as elsewhere, Knox is concerned, not only for the 'very indigent,' and the technically 'poor,'[93] but for those especially whom he calls 'your poor brethren; the labourers and manurers (hand-workers) of the ground.' In the Book of Discipline, before entering upon its provisions for dividing the tithe between the ministers, the poor, and the schools, he urges that the labourers must be allowed 'to pay so reasonable teinds, that they may feel some benefit of Christ Jesus, now preached unto them.' For

'With the grief of our hearts we hear that some gentlemen are now as cruel over their tenants as ever were the Papists, requiring of them whatever before they paid to the Church, so that the Papistical tyranny shall only be changed into the tyranny of the lord or of the laird.'... But 'the gentlemen, barons, earls, lords, and others, must be content to live upon their just rents, and suffer the Church to be restored to her liberty, that in her restitution, the poor, who heretofore by the cruel Papists have been spoiled and oppressed, may now receive some comfort and relaxation.'

For Knox had now fully conceived that magnificent scheme of statesmanship for Scotland, which is preserved for us in his book of Discipline, presented, after the Confession, to the Estates of Scotland in 1560.[94] How long this project may have been in incubation in his mind, we do not know. But the germ of it may have been very early indeed. It may have come into existence simultaneously with his earliest hope for the 'liberty' and 'restitution' of the oppressed and captive kirk. For I shall now for the last time quote a passage from that early Swiss Confession which his master Wishart had brought over with him to Scotland so long ago; a passage which in its bold comprehensiveness may well have been the original even in his (Knox's) early East Lothian days, of his later 'devout imagination.' The Church, said the Swiss Reformers, as translated by the Scot (and translated, as there is high authority for believing,[95] for the express purpose of founding a Protestant Church in Scotland—or at least in those burghs of Scotland which had received his teaching), is entitled to call upon the magistrate for

'A right and diligent institution of the discipline of citizens, and of the schools a just correction and nurture, with liberality towards the ministers of the Church, with a solicitate and thoughtful charge of the poor, to which end all the riches of the Church [in German, die Gueter der Kirche] is referred.'[96]

Knox's 'Book' and scheme are an expansion of this one sentence. It was statesmanship in the fullest sense, including a poor-law and a system of education, higher and elementary, for the whole country. But it was in the first place a Book of the Church. And while its 'system of national education was realised only in its most imperfect fashion, its system of religious instruction was carried into effect with results that would alone stamp the First Book of Discipline as the most important document in Scottish history' (Hume Brown). Even on the Church side it is somewhat too despotic. The power of discipline and of exclusion which is necessary to every self-governing society was rightly preserved. But in its application it tended here, as in Geneva, to press too much upon the detail of individual life. So, too, the prominence now given to preaching, and the duty laid down of habitually waiting upon it, may seem inconsistent with the primitive Protestant authority of the Word of God alone. This, however, would have been modified, had the system of 'weekly prophesyings' (which provided for not one man only but for all who are qualified communicating their views), taken root in Scotland, as it has so largely done in Wales. And even as it was, this work of a trained ministry, and especially the preaching, passed in those early days like a ploughshare through the whole soil and substance of the Scottish character, and left enduring and admirable results.

Had Knox been able to throw himself directly upon the people, all would have been well. But the people were to be approached through hereditary rulers, whose consent was necessary for funds with which the Church might administer, not the department of religion and worship only, but those also of national education and national charity. That the Church should be administrator was not the difficulty. Whether, indeed, the selection of one religion, to be by ordinance of Parliament the religion of the subjects of the State, was justifiable, will always be gravely questioned. But, rightly or wrongly, that had already been done; and it was clearly fitting that the body which was thus in a sense made co-extensive with the nation, should undertake national duties, of a kind cognate with those properly its own. No one—except perhaps the Catholics—doubted that the new Church, with both the new learning and the new enthusiasm behind it, was better fitted to administer alike education and charity than either the Estates or the Crown. And Knox's great scheme proposed that the Church, in addition to administering its own religion and worship, should in every parish provide—1. That those not able to work should be supported; 2. that those who were able should be compelled to work; 3. that every child should have a public school provided for it; 4. that every youth of promise should have an open way through a system of public schools on to the Universities. It was a great plan, but a perfectly reasonable one. And there was abundance of money for it. For the wealth of the Church now abolished, which the law held to be, at least after the death of the existing life-renters, at the disposal of the Crown,[97] and which was indeed afterwards transferred to it by statute,[98] is generally calculated to have amounted to nearly one half of the whole wealth of the country. But the crowning sin of the old hierarchy had been that on the approach of the Reformation they commenced, in the teeth of their own canons, to alienate the temporalities which they had held only in trust, to the lords and lairds around them as private holders. And the process of waste thus initiated by the Church and the nobles was continued by the Crown and its favourites; the result being that the aristocracy so enriched became a body with personal interests hostile to the people and their new Church. Even in the first flush of the Reformation all that the Reformers could procure was an immediate 'assumption' by the Crown of one-third of the benefices. And even of this one-third, only a part was to go to the Church, the rest being divided between the old possessors and the Crown; or, as Knox pithily put it, 'two parts are freely given to the devil, and the third must be divided between God and the devil.' Even God's part, however, was scandalously ill-paid during Mary's reign, and in addition the Church objected to receiving by way of gift from the Crown what they should have received rather as due from the parishes and the people. This came out very instructively in the Assembly of December 1566. The Queen was now courting the Protestants, and had signed an offer for a considerable sum for the maintenance of the ministers. What was to be said to her offer? The Assembly first requested the opinion of Knox and the other ministers, as the persons concerned. They retired for conference, and 'very gravely' answered—

'That it was their duty to preach to the people the Word of God truly and sincerely, and to crave of the auditors the things that were necessary for their sustentation, as of duty the pastors might justly crave of their flock.'[99]

This striking reversion to the Apostolic rule—all the more striking because it is easily reconcilable with the now accepted doctrine of toleration—was, no doubt, not only in substance but in form the utterance of Knox. But so also, if we are to judge by internal evidence, was the formal answer of the Assembly. They accepted the Queen's gift under the pressure of present necessity, but

Not the less, in consideration [of] the law of God ordains the persons who hear the doctrine of salvation at the mouths of his ministers, and thereby receive special food to the nourishment of their souls, to communicate temporal sustentation on [to] their preachers: Their answer is, That having just title to crave the bodily food at the hands of the said persons, and finding no others bound unto them, they only require at their own flock, that they will sustain them according to their bounden duty, and what it shall please them to give for their sustentation, if it were but bread and water, neither will they refuse it, nor desist from the vocation. But to take from others contrary to their will, whom they serve not, they judge it not their duty, nor yet reasonable.'[100]

The principle so admirably laid down by Knox has become the principle of modern Presbyterianism throughout the world. And even in that day it required nothing to be added to it except the recognition that Catholics, and others outside the 'flock,' who were merely statutory 'auditors,' were not bound to its pastor in the tithe, or other proportion, of their means. Elementary as this may now seem, it was of course too much for that age. The same Assembly went on to declare that 'the teinds properly pertain to the Kirk,' and while they should be applied not only to the ministers, but also to 'the sustentation of the poor, maintaining of schools, repairing of kirks, and other godly uses,' such application should be 'at the discretion of the Kirk.' It was all right, provided the intolerant establishment were to remain. For in that case the tithes as a State tax were the proper means for the State maintaining church and school and poor; and as the Church had already been set by the State over both poor and school, it was the fit administrator of all. And all this ascendancy was about to be renewed; for two months after this Assembly Bothwell murdered Darnley, and three months later Mary married Bothwell and abdicated. And the great Parliamentary settlement of 1567 commenced with the long delayed ratification of the three old statutes of 1560; two Acts being now added, one declaring that the Reformed Church is the only Church within the realm, the other giving it jurisdiction over Catholics and all others. It was fit that between these two later Acts should be interposed another,[101] giving the ministers a first claim on the 'thirds' of benefices, 'aye and until the Kirk come to the full possession of their proper patrimony, which is the teinds.' The proper patrimony of the ancient Church was, perhaps, rather the endowments which had been gifted to it; yet Knox, who abhorred the idea of inheriting anything from that old Church, took a share of that money, even from the State, with reluctance. But the tithes, to be enforced yearly from Scotsmen by the law, he claimed freely, for they were due to the poor, were due to learning and the school, and were above all due to the Kirk, as entrusted with these other interests no less than with its own.

The battle was not over. The scheme of the Book of Discipline remained, even after the statutes of 1567, a mere 'imagination,' all attempted embodiment of it being starved by the nobility and the crown. And in our own century the Church, retaining its statutory jurisdiction over Catholics and Nonconformists, has lost its statutory control over both the schools and the poor, while it has never got anything like 'full possession' or even administration of the teinds, in which all three were to share, but of which it desired to be sole trustee.

It it easy for us, looking back—superfluously easy—to see the fundamental mistake in Knox's legislation. But taking that first step of intolerant establishment as fixed, I see nothing in his proposed superstructure which was not admirable and heroic, and also—as heroic things so often are—sane and even practicable. And it was all conceived in the interest of the people—of those 'poor brethren' of land and burgh, with whom Knox increasingly identified himself. No doubt the Kirk had no right to claim administration, even as trustee, of the tenth of the yearly fruits of all Scottish industry. But when we think of the objects to which these fruits were to be applied, we shall not be disposed to deal hardly with such a claim. It is not the divided and disinherited Churches of Scotland alone—it is, even more, the 'poor labourers of the ground'—who have reason, in these later days, to join in the death-bed denunciation by Knox of the 'merciless devourers of the patrimony of the Kirk.'

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Knox's statesmanship may have failed—partly because an unjust and unchristian principle was unawares imbedded in its foundation, and partly because the hereditary legislators of Scotland could not rise to the level of its peasant-reformer. But Knox's churchmanship did not fail. It might well have been contended that the freedom of the Church had been compromised by the legislation which was granted or petitioned for. But that was not the Church's view, and the internal organisation which nobles and politicians refused to sanction, the Church, claiming to be free, instantly took up as its own work. In each town or parish the elders and deacons met weekly with the pastor for the care of the congregation. And these 'particular Kirks' now met half-yearly representatively as the 'Universal Kirk' of Scotland. From its first meeting in December 1560 onwards, the General Assembly or Supreme Court of the Church was convened by the authority of the Church itself, and year by year laid the deep foundations of the social and religious future of Scotland. It was a great work—nothing less than organising a rude nation into a self-governing Church. And there were difficulties and dangers in plenty, some of them unforeseen. The nobles were rapacious, the people were divided, the ministers leaned to dogmatism, the lawyers leaned to Erastianism, the Lowlands were menaced by Episcopacy, the Highlands were emerging from heathenism, and between them both there stretched a broad belt of unreformed Popery. There were a hundred difficulties like these, but they were all accepted as in the long day's work. For in Scotland the dayspring was now risen upon men!

What we have here to remember is, that of this huge national struggle the chief weight lay on the shoulders of Knox, a mere pastor in Edinburgh. And during the first seven years of its continuance this indomitable man was sustaining another doubtful conflict, in which the issues not for Scotland only, but for Europe, were so momentous that it must be looked at separately.

[84] The writers of the Scottish Confession in 1560 protest 'that if any man will note in this our Confession any article or sentence repugning to God's holy word, that it would please him of his gentleness, and for Christian charity's sake, to admonish us of the same in write; and we of our honour and fidelity do promise unto him satisfaction from the mouth of God (that is, from His Holy Scriptures), or else reformation of that which he shall prove to be amiss.'—'Works,' ii. 96.

Wishart, the translator in or before 1545 of the First Helvetic Confession, adds to it this similar and very beautiful declaration:—

'It is not our mind for to prescribe by these brief chapters a certain rule of the faith to all churches and congregations, for we know no other rule of faith but the Holy Scripture; and, therefore, we are well contented with them that agree with these things, howbeit they use another manner of speaking or Confession, different partly to this of ours in words; for rather should the matter be considered than the words. And therefore we make it free for all men to use their own sort of speaking, as they shall perceive most profitable for their churches, and we shall use the same liberty. And if any man will attempt to corrupt the true meaning of this our Confession, he shall hear both a confession and a defence of the verity and truth. It was our pleasure to use these words at this present time, that we might declare our opinion in our religion and worshipping of God.'—'Miscellany of Wodrow Society,' i. 23.

This 'declaration' is not in the original Confession, either in Latin or German, and must have been written, probably by Wishart himself, rather for the English readers or the Scottish churches for whom the rest was translated. It is a remarkable legacy.

[85] As now in the Statute Book, 1567, chaps. 2, 3, and 5.

[86] It may be interesting to read the statement of the First Helvetic in Wishart's translation (though this is one of the paragraphs in which that translation mangles the Latin and German originals). It is given in the 'Miscellany of the Wodrow Society,' i. 21:

'Seeing every magistrate and high power is of God, his chief and principal office is (except he would rather use tyranny) to defend the true worshipping of God from all blasphemy, and to procure true religion ... then after to judge the people by equal and godly laws to exercise and maintain judgment and justice, &c.' (Sec. 26); and (Sec. 24), 'They that bring in ungodly sects and opinions ... should be constrained and punished by the magistrates and high powers.'

The Second Helvetic Confession of 1566 rather inverts the order put by the First. 'The magistrate's principal office is to procure and preserve peace and public tranquillity. And he never can do this more happily' than by promoting religion, extirpating idolatry, and defending the Church.... For 'the care of religion belongs,' not to the magistrate simply, but 'to the pious magistrate.'

[87] See page 67 and note.

[88] 'Works,' i. 8, 194.

[89] 'Works,' ii. 221, 222.

[90] Knox's opinion was asked upon the point in or before 1556, and he answered ('Works,' iv. 127), 'Touching Tithes, by the law of God they appertain to no priest, for now we have no levitical priesthood; but by law, positive gift, custom, they appertain to princes, and by their commandment to "men of kirk," as they would be termed. In their first donation respect was had to another end, as their own law doth witness, than now is observed. For first, respect was had that such as were accounted distributors of those things that were given to churchmen, should have their reasonable sustentation of the same, making just account of the rest, how it was to be bestowed upon the poor, the stranger, the widow, the fatherless, for whose relief all such rents and duties were chiefly appointed to the church. Secondly, that provision should be made for the ministers of the church, &c.'

[91] 'Works,' ii. 340.

[92] Thomassin, a very great authority, devotes no fewer than eight chapters of his third folio De Beneficiis to proving from Councils and the Fathers that 'Res Ecclesiae, res et patrimonia sunt pauperum. Earum beneficiarii non domini sunt sed dispensatores.' After voluminous evidence from all the centuries, he holds it superfluously plain that all beneficed men are 'mere dispensers and administrators, not proprietors nor even possessors, of what is truly the patrimony of the poor,' and what is held as trustee for the indigent by Christ Himself; so much so, that when this property of the poor is diverted to support a bishop or other dignitary, he is not entitled to enjoy his house, table, or garments, unless these have a certain suggestion and savour of destitution—necesse est paupertatis odore aliquo perfundi. Thomassin, of course, holds that the Church has a divine right to tithes; but it is a divine right to administer, not to enjoy, them. Knox and the Reformers denied the divine right even to administer: they urged that the State should make the Kirk its administrators.

[93] For them too, and even for the strong and sturdy and the Jolly Beggars among them, he had a certain fellow-feeling; as is witnessed by the zest with which he records their 'Warning' (p. 82). The one point, indeed, at which Knox and Burns come together is 'A man's a man for a' that!'

[94] 'Works,' ii. 183 to 260.

[95] I am indebted for this view to Dr. A.F. Mitchell, Emeritus Professor of Church History in St Andrews, to whom all are indebted who are interested in the historical learning of either the Reformation or the Covenant.

[96] The 'end' to which or for which all the Church patrimony is here said to be given, does not seem to be merely the 'charge of the poor'; though Protestants as well as Catholics often urge that as fundamentally true. It seems to be rather the whole group of good objects which are gathered together. The Latin and German originals must be consulted.

[97] Stair's 'Institutions,' ii. 3, 36. Erskine's 'Institutes,' ii. 10, 19.

[98] 1587, c. 29.

[99] 'Works,' ii. 538.

[100] 'Book of the Universall Kirk of Scotland,' p. 46. The significance of this utterance was long ago pointed out by the Rev. J.C. Macphail, D.D., of Pilrig Church, Edinburgh.

[101] 1567, c. 10.



CHAPTER VI

THE PUBLIC LIFE: THE CONFLICT WITH QUEEN MARY

Parliament had made a great and revolutionary change. It had acted as if the government had been already granted to it, or, in Cecil's phrase, to 'the nation of the land.' And the change was on one side a breaking off of the old alliance with Catholic France. But the sovereigns of Scotland, now and for the last twelvemonth, were no other than the King and Queen of France. They, rather than Parliament, were the 'Authority,' which, according to the consistent theory of that age, had the right to make and enforce changes of religion; and which, according to the more puzzling theory of Knox, had the right to do so—provided the religion so to be enforced was the true one. Accordingly the new Confession of Faith and the statutes passed by the late Parliament, were sent to Paris by the Lord St John. He waited there long, but, of course, brought back no ratification. But that, says Knox, 'we little regarded, nor yet do regard'; for, he adds, falling back rather too late upon one of those great principles his utterance of which has sunk into the hearts of his countrymen,

'all that we did was rather to shew our dutiful obedience than to beg of them any strength to our religion, which from God has full power, and needeth not the suffrage of man, but in so far as man hath need to believe it, if that ever he shall have participation of the life everlasting.'[102]

It was no wonder that the royal pair did not ratify a Protestant Confession, for during their brief reign over France they were the centre of a keen crusade against Protestantism, conducted far more by Mary's counsellors and uncles, the Guises, than by her feeble-minded husband. Towards the end of 1560 this had gone so far that secret preparations seem to have been made for immediately anticipating the St Bartholomew of twelve years later. But the sudden death of Francis and the widowhood of Mary changed the whole situation. The new King was in the power, not of the Guises, but of his mother, Catherine de Medici; and Mary of Scots would now have to accept a second or a third place in Paris. But in Europe, and in the politics of Europe, the beautiful young widow sprang at once into the foremost rank, and became the star of all eyes. Ex-Queen of France, Queen-presumptive of England, and actual Queen of Scotland, which had always been the link between the other two, and to which she was now to return, the marriage destiny of this girl of eighteen would probably decide the wavering balance of Christendom.[103]

Mary understood her high part, and accepted it with alacrity. Fascinating and beautiful, keen-witted and strong-willed, she would have found herself at home in this great game of politics, even if it had not turned upon an element of intense personal interest for herself. But while all men knew that her hand was the chief prize of the game, almost the first man to act on this knowledge, strange to say, was Knox. The Treaty of Edinburgh had acknowledged the right of the Duke (Hamilton or Chatelherault), and of his eldest son Arran, as the next in succession to the Scottish crown after its present holder. And while that present holder was still married to the King of France, the Scottish nobles had urged Arran as a suitable husband for Elizabeth of England. It would be the best arrangement, they thought, for binding the two countries together, and counteracting the inevitable pull asunder from the Sovereigns in Paris. Elizabeth, however, had replied, to the grave displeasure of the Estates, that she was not 'presently disposed to marry.' And now a new question was raised. Scotland was, of course, still more deeply interested in the probable second marriage of its own Queen. Arran, an extremely flighty young man, was at this moment much under the personal influence of the Reformer; and it was with Knox's privity, and perhaps on his suggestion, and certainly without the knowledge of the nobility generally, that before Mary had been a widow for a month, her young Protestant cousin sent her a ring and a secret letter of courtship. It was again in vain. When Elizabeth refused him, the Estates had been offended, but Arran himself bore the loss with much resignation. Now, however, the case was different; and though Mary at all times treated her young kinsman with kindness, Arran took her prompt rejection of his present overtures grievously to heart, and his wits, never very stable, were soon completely overturned. Knox, however, had now fair warning that Mary Stuart knew herself to be more than a mere Queen of Scots, and that the infinitely difficult questions, which her approaching return to Scotland must necessarily raise, were not to be evaded on easy terms.

There was among these one theoretical question which ought to have been a difficulty for Knox, but of which he was not now disposed to make much. According to his view women should not be sovereigns at all. But, in truth, this was but one branch of the general grievance of arbitrary power in that age. The Reformation took place, we must always remember, at a time when the hereditary authority of kings was greater than either before or since. And this arbitrary power of one man became, if possible, a little more absurd when it happened to be the power of one woman. In 1557, Knox had found himself confronted with a Queen of England, a Queen of Scotland, and a Queen-Regent in Scotland—all of them ladies immersed in Catholicism, and each in a position which, in his view, implied the duty of selecting religion for all her lieges. We, in our time, have a very simple way of getting rid of such an intolerable difficulty. But in that age a man even of the boldness of Knox was thankful to mitigate it. He thought he found a mitigation in the view (held by thinkers and publicists at the time commonly enough) that women should not be entrusted with such a power; and, in 1558, he published anonymously his 'First Blast of the Trumpet against the Monstrous Regiment [Regimen or Rule] of Women.' Though anonymous, the book was well known to be his; and being Knox's it was founded not so much on theory as on Scripture precedents, largely misread according to the exigencies of the argument. But the publication was, in any case, a practical mistake. Mary of England died immediately after, and was succeeded by Elizabeth, who was rather more of a woman than her sister, but to whom Knox and Scotland looked as their only ally against Continental Catholicism. Knox repeatedly tried to explain to the new English Queen; but that very great but very feminine ruler never forgave his book. Meantime he came, as we saw, into more personal contact with the Queen-Regent of Scotland, and had the highest hopes from her. Ultimately she disappointed these; but even when she was deposed by the nobles, to whom he had originally looked as the agents in the Reform, Knox insisted on keeping open a door for her restoration, in the event of her coming in the meantime to think with himself. And now her daughter was come to her native country as Queen in her own right. Knox, taught by experience, had already taken part in private overtures to her, and was no longer disposed to stand on any theoretical difficulty as to the rule of a woman. The practical difficulties were enough.

And the practical difficulties were tremendous. Had Mary ruled as a modern constitutional Queen, with toleration of religion all around, things would have been easy. She would have enjoyed the freedom which she granted to the lowest of her subjects, and every one of them would have supported her enthusiastically against domestic and foreign aggression. But the reign of religion which, according to her first proclamation, she, on her arrival, 'found publicly and universally standing,' was very different. It was one by which half the lieges were forbidden the exercise of their own religion and of their ordinary worship; and by which Scotland and all its rulers were pledged to a faith she had been trained as a child to detest, and as a Queen to suppress. The situation was impossible from the first. The only question was, how long it would last.

Knox would have met it fairly by making her acknowledgment of the Protestant Acts and Confession a condition of her being acknowledged by Scotland. And had the fact been known that Mary, by three secret documents, executed just before her childless marriage to the Dauphin, had already handed over her native kingdom, in the event of her having no issue, to the King of France, the crisis, which was to be postponed for so many years, might have come at once. But an intermediate plan was arranged in Paris through 'the man whom all the godly did most reverence,' and whose weight of character was gradually giving him the foremost place in Scotland—Lord James Stewart, the Queen's natural brother. Mary, quick to understand men, put herself under her brother's guidance, and the result was that she was joyfully received in Edinburgh, and a proclamation was issued forbidding, on the one hand, any 'alteration or innovation of the state of religion' as Her Majesty found it in the realm on her arrival, and, on the other, any tumult or violence, especially against Her Majesty's French domestics and followers. So, on the first Sunday, while the Evangel was publicly preached in St Giles in Edinburgh, and in all the great towns and burghs of Scotland, mass was privately celebrated in her chapel at Holyrood, the Lord James with his sword keeping the door, to 'stop all Scottish men to enter in,' whether to join in the worship or to disturb it. It was drawing a different line from that which had been fixed by the recent Parliament, whose Acts also the new Queen had evaded ratifying. Knox's passion against 'idolatry,' beyond all other forms of false religion or irreligion, was fully shared by the mass of his followers, and he tells us that, on this occasion, he worked in private 'rather to mitigate, yea to sloken, that fervency that God had kindled in others.' But in the pulpit 'next Sunday' he said that 'one Mass was more fearful to him than if ten thousand armed enemies were landed in any part of the realm, of purpose to suppress the whole religion'—an exaggeration of intolerance which is unintelligible, until we remember that the 'one mass' which he was thinking of was that of the ruler who might soon have the power, and perhaps had already the intention, of suppressing religion.

Mary had come to Scotland with the deliberate plan of conciliating and capturing her native kingdom, and she was not the woman to shrink from whatever seemed to be necessary in the process. It may have been her brother who suggested a meeting between two people whom, in different ways, he certainly liked as well as admired. In any case, Knox was now at once sent for to the Court, and there followed the first of the famous interviews between Knox and the Queen, recorded in the Fourth Book of his History. The detailed truth of these Dialogues is not to be inferred merely from their vigour and verisimilitude. It results equally from the fact that, throughout, Knox represents the young Queen as meeting him with perfect intelligence, while on most points she actually has the better of the argument. The vindication of Knox has come, not so much from what he has himself so faithfully recorded, as from the judgment of history on the whole situation, and on the relation to it of speakers who were also actors.

The first is probably the most important of the dialogues.[104] Mary and her brother received Knox in Holyrood, two ladies standing in the other end of the room. She commenced by taxing him with his book against her 'regimen.' He explained that, if Scotland was satisfied with a female ruler, he would not object.

'But yet,' said she, 'ye have taught the people to receive another religion than their Princes can allow: And how can that doctrine be of God, seeing that God commands subjects to obey their Princes?'

Knox, in answer, ignored the article of his Confession which bears closely on this point,[105] and fell back on the more fundamental truth.

'Madam, as right religion took neither original nor authority from worldly princes, but from the Eternal God alone, so are not subjects bound to frame their religion according to the appetites of their Princes.'

He easily illustrated this by instances of men in Scripture, who resisted such commands of Princes, and suffered.

'But yet,' said she, 'they resisted not with the sword.'

'God,' said he, 'Madam, had not given unto them the power and the means.'

'Think ye,' quoth she, 'that subjects, having power, may resist their Princes?'

'If their Princes exceed their bounds,' quoth he, 'Madam, and do against that wherefore they should be obeyed, it is no doubt but they may be resisted, even by power.'

That Princes should regulate the religion of subjects Knox held to be within their 'bounds,' but only apparently if they regulated it aright, and according to the Word. Otherwise, he now explained, the prince might be restrained, like a father 'stricken with a frenzy.' At this remarkable argument the Queen 'stood, as it were, amazed more than the quarter of an hour.' Recovering herself, she said—

'Well, then, I perceive that my subjects shall obey you and not me.'...

'God forbid,' answered he, in words which really express his fundamental view, 'that ever I take upon me to command any to obey me, or yet to set subjects at liberty to do what pleaseth them. But my travel is that both princes and subjects obey God, who,' he added, 'commands queens to be nurses unto His people.'

'Yea,' quoth she, 'but ye are not the Church that I will nourish. I will defend the Kirk of Rome, for, I think, it is the true Kirk of God.'

'Your will,' quoth he, 'Madam, is no reason; neither doth your thought make that Roman harlot to be the true and immaculate spouse of Jesus Christ.'...

'My conscience,' said she, 'is not so.'

'Conscience, Madam, requires knowledge, and I fear that right knowledge ye have none.'

'But,' said she, 'I have both heard and read.'

... 'Have ye heard,' said he, 'any teach, but such as the Pope and his Cardinals have allowed?'

The Queen avoided a direct answer,[106] but took the next point with unfailing acuteness.

'Ye interpret the Scriptures,' said she, 'in one manner, and they interpret in another; whom shall I believe? and who shall be judge?'

And Knox's answer is from his side perfect—

'Ye shall believe God, that plainly speaketh in His word; and farther than the word teacheth you, ye neither shall believe the one nor the other. The word of God is plain in itself; and if there appear any obscurity in one place, the Holy Ghost, who is never contrarious to Himself, explains the same more clearly in other places.'

The conference was long, and was ended with mutual courtesies. Both parties in the country suspected that the new sovereign might be gradually coming round to the new faith. No triumph could have been more glorious for Knox, and at the opening of the interview he had used every method of conciliation. But he never henceforth deceived himself as to the chances in this case. Outwardly, the Queen remained friendly, and he remained loyal; but his opinion as expressed privately, immediately after this first meeting, was recorded later on.

'If there be not in her a proud mind, a crafty wit, and an indurate heart against God and His truth, my judgment faileth me.'

Induration of heart was not a charitable judgment to pass against a young woman brought up in the worst school of morals in Europe, but whom the speaker held never to have met 'God and his truth' till that forenoon. Yet, as usual, Knox's judgment was by no means wholly wrong. There is a certain brilliant hardness about the charm of Mary Queen of Scots, even with posterity; and as to religion, whatever may have been the case in the later years of her sad imprisonment, there is no evidence in her early days in Scotland of personal or earnest interest in the religion even of her own church.[107] And a tender and serious interest in religion was held by the whole Protestantism of that day to be the one gate for the individual into 'God's truth.' Had his Queen shown anything of this spirit of earnest enquiry, our rough Reformer might have been precipitate to help her steps, though they should be as yet on the wrong side of the dividing line. But Mary made no pretences on the subject, and it was her misfortune, and that of all around, that her opinion on religion—a matter in which she took no more interest than was natural to her years—should have been all important to her subjects. They at least were, or professed to be, in earnest about it; and the man who in her presence now represented that earnestness made no pretences either. But we may be sure that Knox's judgment on a 'proud mind' as to the more central and personal truths of religion, would not be mitigated by that keen 'wit' which played so freely round its external parts, and transfixed so easily his own theory of Church and State. We know from himself that Mary, having found the weak point of the intolerant legislation, took care to press upon it. She was 'ever crying conscience, conscience! it is a sore thing to constrain the conscience;'[108] and she selected for her 'flattering words' the best of the men around her, till from the question, 'Why may not the Queen have her own Mass, and the form of her religion? what can that hurt us or our religion?' there came a formal discussion and a vote of the Lords that they were not entitled to constrain her. This state of matters continued during the year 1562. But the real danger, of course, was from abroad, and Knox had intelligence of all that was going on there. In December 1562 a victory of the Guises in France had been followed by dancing at Holyrood; and Knox preached against 'taking pleasure for the displeasure of God's people.' The Queen sent for him, and suggested his speaking to herself privately rather than haranguing publicly upon her domestic proceedings: a proposal which he so promptly rejected that she at once turned her back on him. It was on this occasion that, hearing the whisper as he went out, 'He is not afraid,' he replied, with a 'reasonably merry' countenance, 'Wherefore should the pleasing face of a gentlewoman affray me? I have looked into the faces of many angry men, and yet have not been affrayed above measure.' But the effect of that pleasing face upon others around may be measured by a letter written next day to Cecil by Randolph, who had for some time been Queen Elizabeth's envoy in Edinburgh. He was an intelligent and well-meaning man; but Mary was far more than a match for him, as she had been in France for an abler diplomatist, Throckmorton. Randolph tells the English minister that Knox is still full of 'good zeal and affection' to England. 'I know also that his travail and care is great to unite the hearts of the princes and people of these two realms in perpetual love and hearty kindness.' In the previous year Randolph had heard an incident of Knox's first interview with Mary, which we only know from his letter. Even then Knox 'knocked so hastily upon her heart that he made her weep, as well you know there be of that sex that will do that as well for anger as for grief.' But since that date the Queen of Scots had turned her caressing courtesy directly upon this Englishman, and even the golden cup which she presented to him at Lord James Stewart's marriage had perhaps less influence with Randolph than the bright eyes of one of her 'four Maries' whom he was now pursuing. So he adds now that Knox 'is so full of mistrust in all the Queen's doings, words, and sayings, as though he were either of God's privy counsel, that know how He had determined of her from the beginning, or that he knew the secrets of her heart so well, that neither she did nor could have for ever one good thought of God or of His true religion.' No criticism could be more acute. And yet the research of later times has shown that Knox's judgment, or information, as to what Mary of Scots was now doing, was superior to that of all around him. This was the very close of 1562, and in the next month of January she extended her Catholic correspondence, which had hitherto been chiefly with the Guises and her Cardinal uncle, by letters to the Pope.[109] On the 31st she writes Pius IV. assuring him of her devotion to the Church, and that for it and for the restoration to it of her kingdom she is ready to sacrifice her life.[110] The bearer, too, of this secret missive was Cardinal Granvelle, from Madrid, and deep at this moment in the persecuting plans of Alva and his master Philip. For a new and greater danger was now rising for Scotland. Hitherto the chief pretenders for the hand of the Queen of Scots had been the Archduke Charles, and the Duke of Anjou. (The new King of France was also supposed to be in love with her.) But now the project was pressed of a marriage between her and Don Carlos, the oldest son of Philip and the heir of the mighty monarchy of Spain. And it was with this full in her mind, and with the determination to take a step forward in her own kingdom, that Mary again sent for Knox—this time to Lochleven, where she was hawking. The occasion was well chosen. The Queen's mass was now tolerated: why should not private subjects also be allowed to have it, provided they worshipped privately? 'Who can stop the Queen's subjects to be of the Queen's religion?' Already many Catholics had acted upon this reasoning at Easter of 1563; but in the West the Protestant barons and magistrates, instead of complaining to the Queen and her Council, had apprehended the wrong-doers and proposed to punish them. 'For two hours' the Queen urged him to persuade the gentlemen of the West 'not to put hands to punish any man for the using of themselves in their religion as pleased them.' Nothing could be more clearly right. But nothing could be more clearly against the law; and Knox assured her that if she would enforce that law herself her subjects would be quiet. But 'Will ye,' said she, 'that they shall take my sword into their hand?'

'The sword of justice, Madam,' he answered, 'is God's; and if the magistrate will not use it the people must do so. And therefore it shall be profitable to your Majesty to consider what is the thing your Grace's subjects look to receive of your Majesty, and what it is that ye ought to do unto them by mutual contract. They are bound to obey you, and that not but in God. You are bound to keep laws unto them. You crave of them service: they crave of you protection and defence against wicked doers.'

The Queen, 'somewhat offended, passed to her supper,' and Knox prepared to return to Edinburgh. But her brother, afterwards the Regent, had heard the result of the conference, and Mary learned that matters could not safely be left in this condition. Next morning the Queen sent for Knox as she was going out hawking. She had apparently forgotten all the keen dispute of the evening before; and her manner was caressing and confidential. What did Mr Knox think of Lord Ruthven's offering her a ring? 'I cannot love him,' she added, 'for I know him to use enchantment.' Was Mr Knox not going to Dumfries, to make the Bishop of Athens the superintendent of the Kirk in that county? He was, Knox answered; the proposed superintendent being a man in whom he had confidence. 'If you knew him,' said Mary, 'as well as I do, ye would never promote him to that office, nor yet to any other within the Kirk.' In yet another matter, and one more private and delicate, she required his help. Her half-sister, Lady Argyll, and the Earl, her husband, were, she was afraid, not on good terms. Knox had once reconciled them before, but, 'do this much for my sake, as once again to put them at unity.' And so she dismissed him with promises to enforce the laws against the mass.

Knox for once fell under the spell. He seems to have believed that this most charming of women was at last leaning to the side of her native land. And so he sat down and wrote a long letter to Argyll. He went to Dumfries, and on making enquiry, he found that the Queen was right in her shrewd estimate of the proposed superintendent, and took means to prevent the election. It turned out, too, that she had kept her promise about citing offenders, and no fewer than forty-eight persons, one of them an Archbishop, had been indicted. The first Parliament since her landing had been summoned for June, and Moray and Lethington seem to have suggested to Knox that the Queen would be glad then to ratify the Acts of 1560, in exchange for the approval by the estates of some suitable marriage. Even now, it was these two heads of the Protestant party whom Knox trusted rather than Mary. But the young Queen had outwitted all of them together. The prosecutions throughout the country had pacified the Protestants, and they did not come up to the Parliament. When it met, it did not even ask that the 'state of religion' should be ratified. Meantime the Cardinal of Lorraine had carried to the Council of Trent the adhesion of the Queen of Scots, and a special congregation was held by it for the private reception of her letter. Worse still, the plan for a Spanish marriage, and for setting a Scoto-Spanish queen upon the throne of the Bloody Mary, was now actively prosecuted. All this spring, while professing to carry out her promises to Knox, Mary was negotiating with Madrid, and 'already, in imagination, Queen of Scotland, England, Ireland, Spain, Flanders, Naples, and the Indies,' she was but little interested in the plans which her Scottish nobility were proposing for her to England. Knox had hoped that if not a Protestant noble like Leicester or Arran, at least a royal Protestant like the King of Denmark or the King of Sweden, would, with Elizabeth's help, be a successful suitor. But Queen Elizabeth, whom Knox pithily describes as 'neither good Protestant nor yet resolute Papist,' was not disposed to help any one to marry before herself, least of all her lovely cousin. And the Scottish statesmen, Moray and Maitland, like her own English advisers often, were now so driven to desperation by Elizabeth's vacillations that they had actually—possibly with the hope of frightening her—pressed both at home and abroad the project of marrying the Queen of Scots to the heir of Spain! This apparently came to the knowledge of Knox along with the refusal to meet his hopes on the part of the Scots Parliament; and now his cup was full. Lord James Stewart, by this time the Earl of Moray, son-in-law of the Earl Marischal, and gifted with great estates of the forfeited Earl of Huntly, had been his chief friend. But 'familiarly after that time they spake not together more than a year and a half; for the said John, by his letter, gave a discharge to the said Earl of all farther intromission or care with his affairs.' In this stately letter Knox recalled all their past career in common, and added that, seeing his hopes had been disappointed,

'I commit you to your own wit, and to the conducting of those who better please you. I praise my God, I this day leave you victor of your enemies, promoted to great honours, and in credit and authority with your sovereign. If so ye long continue, none within the realm shall be more glad than I shall be; but if that after this ye shall decay (as I fear that ye shall) then call to mind by what means God exalted you.'

But the pulpit remained to him, and the pulpit in those days had sometimes to combine the functions of free Parliament and free press. Knox went into St Giles', and in a great sermon before the assembled Lords, from whose retrospective eloquence we have already quoted,[111] he drove right at the heart of the situation.

'And now, my Lords, to put end to all, I hear of the Queen's marriage; dukes, brethren to emperors, and kings, all strive for the best game. But this, my Lords, will I say—note the day, and bear witness after—whensoever the nobility of Scotland, professing the Lord Jesus, consent that an infidel (and all Papists are infidels) shall be head to your Sovereign, ye do as far as in you lieth to banish Christ Jesus from this realm; ye bring God's vengeance upon the country, a plague upon yourselves, and perchance ye shall do small comfort to your Sovereign.'

That sovereign could scarcely be expected to take the same view, and for the last time the Queen sent for Knox. No one knew so well as she that he had laid his finger on the true hinge of the political question, and that her opponent would have a far stronger case now than at any of their previous interviews. She burst into tears the moment he entered. 'I have borne with you,' she said most truly, 'in all your rigorous manner of speaking; I have sought your favour by all possible means.' 'True it is, madam,' he answered, 'your Grace and I have been at divers controversies, in the which I never perceived your Grace to be offended at me.' Knox's complacency is sometimes thick-skinned: but he was not wrong in thinking that Mary, a woman with immensely more brains than the generality of her posthumous admirers, had from the first understood and, perhaps, half liked her uncompromising adversary, and that she had at least enjoyed the dialectic conflicts in which she had held her own so well. But the matter was more serious now. 'What have you to do with my marriage?' she demanded. Knox in answer hinted that she had herself invited him to give her private advice; but what he had said was in the pulpit, where he had to speak to the nobility and to think of the good of the whole commonwealth.

'What have you to do,' she persisted, 'with my marriage? or what are you within this commonwealth?'

'A subject born within the same,' said he, 'Madam. And albeit I neither be earl, lord, nor baron within it, yet has God made me (how abject that ever I be in your eyes) a profitable member within the same.'

Under the new discipline the preacher claimed a right to utter opinions even as to private marriages, and used it much beyond what the fundamental principles of Protestantism could justify. But Knox was now dealing with his Queen, and he felt himself well within the line of his duty in repeating to herself the deadly consequences to Scotland if its nobility ever consented to her being 'subject to an unfaithful husband.' It was unanswerable, except by a new passion of tears, under which the Reformer stood at first silent and unmoved. He broke silence at last with a clumsy attempt to explain or to console; and Mary's indignation was not diminished by Knox's quaint protest that he was really a tenderhearted man, and could scarcely bear to see his own children weep when corrected for their faults. She broke with him finally; and Knox, dismissed to the ante-chamber, found himself so solitary, though among the ladies of the Court, that (as we have already seen) he attempted to 'procure the company of women' by moralisings which they too may have found impressive rather than delightful.

From this point—June 1563—the history slopes steadily downwards. Mary's ambition was still to be Queen of Spain. Messengers on the subject went to Spain and came to Scotland. But her plans were secretly counterworked by her old enemy Catherine de Medici, the French Queen-mother, and Philip changed his mind continually. In December an incident happened which shewed Knox's new position. A riot arose in the Queen's absence between Catholics who wished to worship in her private chapel and Protestants who wished to prevent or denounce it. The latter were indicted for 'invading' the palace. Knox instantly wrote a letter summoning the faithful to attend in a body along with them; and he was cited to appear before the Queen in Council on a charge of 'convocation of the lieges.' Once more he stood before Mary, but now it was at her bar. Knox had the weakness of listening to gossip, especially as to what his feminine adversaries said; and he records not only what he saw, that 'her pomp lacked one principal point, to wit, womanly gravity,' but also that she was heard to observe—this time apparently in admirable Scots—'Yon man gart me greet, and grat never tear himself. I will see if I can gar him greet.' Knox absolutely refused to withdraw his letter or to apologise for it: and though the Council did not desire to justify his conduct, they heard with some sympathy his plea that Papists were not good advisers of princes, being sons of him who was 'a murderer from the beginning.' Lethington, the Secretary, conducted the prosecution, and it was probably he who at this point remarked—

'You forget yourself: you are not now in the pulpit.'

'I am in the place,' said Knox—and again his word has become memorable—'where I am demanded of conscience to speak the truth, and therefore the truth I speak, impugn it whoso list.'

The votes were taken twice over; but the nobles steadily refused to find Knox guilty, and 'that night there was neither dancing nor fiddling in the palace.' During the whole of 1564, however, Knox and the General Assembly were divided from the Protestant courtiers, who argued, with perfect justice, that the attitude of the Reformer and his fellow preachers to the Queen was one of scarcely veiled disloyalty. In a long and formal conference upon the subject, Knox said some things so plainly that Lethington answered—

'Then will ye make subjects to control their princes and rulers?'

'And what harm,' said the other, 'should the Commonwealth receive, if that the corrupt affections of ignorant rulers were moderated, and so bridled by the wisdom and discretion of godly subjects that they should do wrong nor violence to no man?'

But even the leading men of the Court, themselves Protestants, were now beginning to be disquieted by a sense that they did not know what their queen was planning, and that they could not be responsible for her actions. During this year, 1564, she was making herself more independent, both of them and of her old advisers in France; one great step being the promotion of the Italian, Rizzio, who was now her confidential secretary. The Spanish marriage was becoming more hopeless, and the eyes of Mary's Catholic friends were now turning in another direction. The man at the English court nearest to the English throne was young Henry Darnley, and Elizabeth had herself jealously suggested that 'yonder long lad' might possibly please her Scottish cousin. Mary and he were both great-grandchildren of Henry VII., and their union would consolidate the Scottish claim to the English crown—a dangerous result for the daughter of Ann Boleyn. That was a sufficient reason for Darnley not being encouraged to go to Scotland; but he was at last allowed to leave London secretly in February 1565. The young people met in Wemyss Castle, and it was soon plain that Mary and her handsome cousin were on the best terms. Archbishop Beaton, acting as her secretary in Paris, was still pressing King Philip, and on the 15th of March he warned the Spanish ambassador that unless his master came to the rescue Mary would have to throw herself away on her English relative. There was no response, and between the 7th and 10th of April, Mary of Scots and Henry Lord Darnley were privately married in Rizzio's apartment in Holyrood. No one knew it; and nearly two months after, the Archbishop again urges the King of Spain to consent, for his Queen is not yet married, and there is still time for the greater alliance. Seven weeks more passed, and on the 29th June the public marriage took place, and Mary gave her husband the title of king.

It was the downfall of Moray, and, as Knox points out, of the whole temporising Protestant policy since the Queen came to Scotland. Moray saw that clearly enough, and confederating with a number of the other Lords to protest against the marriage and the proposed kingship, the whole party were within three months driven out of Scotland by the energy of the Queen. In the field, Knox confesses, 'her courage increased manlike so much, that she was ever with the foremost.' And in her proclamation she frankly made it her case against the recalcitrant nobility

'that the establishment of Religion will not content them, but we must be forced to govern by Council, such as it shall please them to appoint us; a thing so far beyond all measure, that we think the only mention of so unreasonable a demand is sufficient ... for what other thing is this but to dissolve the whole policy, and in a manner to invert the very order of nature, to make the Prince obey and subjects command?'

For now the triumph of absolutism and of Rizzio, as the Papal agent, was complete—more so than Moray or Knox knew. France and Spain, long divided, seemed at last to be working together for the faith. And the greatest of European monarchs, though he declined to wed his heir in Scotland, had by no means abandoned the cause there. On the contrary, in this very spring of 1565, while the Darnley-marriage was preparing, the savage Alva and Granvelle were laying down at Bayonne, by Philip's authority, the first lines of the plan for sending an Armada against Protestant England, in order to place Mary on its throne: and the assurance to that effect, given by Alva's own lips to Mary's envoy, was carried by him to Scotland in time to swell the exultation of her nuptials.[112]

One man was left in Scotland, and he now had at least the people of Edinburgh with him. Darnley, though a Catholic, thought it prudent to come to Knox's preaching on a Sunday very soon after the marriage, but was so unfortunate as to hear a sermon on the text—'Other lords than Thou have had dominion over us.' The preacher explained that in very bad cases of ingratitude of the people, God permitted such lords to be 'boys and women,' and the weakness of Ahab was specially dwelt upon in not restraining his strong-minded wife. Worse than all, the service was an hour longer than he had expected; and the king, characteristically, 'would not dine, and with great fury passed to the hawking.' Knox was summoned to the Council, and ordered not to preach while the Court remained in town. He gave the particularly cautious answer that 'if the Church would command him either to speak or abstain, he would obey, so far as the Word of God would permit him'; but times were changed, and in this matter the Church had now to obey the Authority. The Lords of the Congregation, for four years the Queen of Scots' nominal advisers, were very soon in exile in England; and Queen Elizabeth, in mortal dread of the apprehended union of France and Spain in a Catholic crusade against her own crown, received 'her sister's rebels' with upbraiding and almost menace. Knox and the General Assembly maintained a defensive warfare all through the year 1565-6. But they had no representation in the Court, and Rizzio succeeded so far that Mary herself tells[113] how she had arranged for the counter-revolution being commenced by a Parliament in April 1566, 'the spiritual estate being placed therein in the ancient manner, tending to have done some good anent restoring the old religion.' Two things prevented this smooth programme being carried out. Mary's rather weak fancy for Darnley seems to have only lasted for a few weeks after her marriage. He turned out to be a fool; and his wife and the nobility declined to promise him the Crown-matrimonial, i.e., to make him successor to her in case there were no children. Darnley now courted the banished lords, and made a 'Band' with them according to the old Scots fashion, a fashion which was to break out nearer home in more savage survival still. For Mary's imprudent favouritism of Rizzio had roused the deadly jealousy both of her husband and of the nobles who remained at home. And on the 9th of March a band of men headed by Morton and Ruthven dragged the Italian out from her supper-table at Holyrood, and stabbed him to death in the ante-chamber; Darnley and the lords remaining in order to make terms with their Queen. The outrage was unavailing; in two days Mary had talked over her husband, escaped with him from Holyrood to Dunbar, and summoned her new favourite, Lord Bothwell, to her aid. Years before, when fighting the Earl of Huntly in the far North, she had expressed to Randolph 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.' And now, as before, her energy swept the field clear of her enemies, and she returned to Edinburgh victorious. Knox may not have known of the formal Band; but he was even more opposed to his Queen than were those who signed it, and on 17th March 1566 he 'departed of the Burgh at two hours afternoon, with a great mourning of the godly of religion.' Five days before, on the very day, indeed, after Mary had ridden away through the night from Holyrood, he had penned, 'with deliberate mind to his God,' his retrospective confession,[114] prefixing to it 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!'

It was the old sigh, which has been breathed from the most heroic hearts in times of crisis and failure; 'Let me now die, for I am not better than my fathers!' And here once again it was premature. For the Queen, now awakened to the whole situation, saw how rash had been her recent aggressive policy. After the birth of her son in June 1566, instead of framing Parliamentary enactments against the new religion, she vaguely proposed to make some provision for the ministers, and allowed the banished lords, one by one, to come back. And though they now found their unfortunate confederate, Darnley, in neglect and disgrace, they found also their sovereign passing rapidly under a new and more controlling influence; and the Earl of Bothwell was a nominal Protestant. Knox at first was forbidden to return to his pulpit, and he visited the Churches in Ayrshire and Fife, occupying himself among other things in revising the first four books of his history—the only part which is finished by his trenchant pen. But in December the General Assembly met in Edinburgh, and Knox was with them. We have already seen the striking answer sent by this Assembly[115] as to the proposed gifts of the Queen. But their attention was arrested at this moment by another and very inconsistent order of the Crown restoring the Archbishop of St Andrews, the head of the old hierarchy, to his consistorial jurisdiction, contrary to the law of 1560. It was either a very absurd, or a very alarming, step; and Knox, at the request of the Assembly, prepared a powerful manifesto on the subject. He then went away, with their approval, on a long-meditated visit to England, to visit his sons in Northumberland or Yorkshire, and to strengthen his friends on the more Puritan side of the English Church in their new troubles under Elizabeth. Little is known of his proceedings there; though he remained in England during the whole time between the Assembly of December 1566 and another which sat on 25th June 1567.

But between these dates, and in Knox's absence, the most amazing tragedy in the history of Scotland had unrolled itself in Edinburgh. Week by week, the increasing power of Lord Bothwell over the Queen, and her increasing dislike of her husband, had attracted the attention of men. But before February there was a sudden reconciliation between her and Darnley. She brought him to a house in Kirk of Field, near Edinburgh, and at midnight of the 9th it was blown up with gunpowder by the servants of Bothwell, the body of the King being found in the garden. On 21st April Bothwell waylaid and carried off Mary to Dunbar. But he was still a married man, having wedded Lord Huntly's sister fourteen months before. And now in May, came in the new consistorial jurisdiction of the Archbishop, for the only act which that prelate ever performed under it was to confirm a sentence of nullity of this very marriage, and that on the ground that Bothwell and his wife being too nearly related, had not procured a Papal dispensation (the Papal dispensation having not only been procured before the marriage, but having been granted by the hands of the Archbishop himself as Legate). Ten days after this divorce, and in spite of dissuasions from her friends at home and abroad, the ill-fated Queen publicly married the murderer of her husband, and the strong shudder of disgust that passed through the commons of Scotland shook her throne to the ground. So upon Mary's half-compulsory abdication, Moray became Regent for the infant King, who was crowned at Stirling, Knox preaching the coronation sermon. (There were men present on this triumphal occasion before whom he had preached once before in the same place, when sunk in despair after that 'dark and dolorous' flight from Edinburgh.) And now came that great winding up already discussed in our last chapter, the Protestant legislative settlement of Church matters in 1567.

It was the second great climax of Knox's life; and now his public work was done. We shall not find it necessary to follow his later years in detail. They were troubled by ineffectual attempts to reverse the verdict of the people already given. For Mary had a majority of the nobles still with her, and Elizabeth of England resented the claim of a nation to judge its sovereign. An appeal to arms followed: the Regent was victorious at Langside, and the Queen of Scots fled to a long captivity in England. But her claims threw Scotland into civil war during most of the remaining life of Knox. Moray was assassinated in 1570 by one of the Hamiltons whose life he had spared upon Knox's intercession; and next Sunday Knox, who had long since returned into friendship with him, preached on 'Blessed are the dead,' and 'moved three thousand persons to shed tears for the loss of such a good and godly governor.' But Lethington had now gone over to the exiled Queen, and took with him even Kirkaldy, who had fought with Moray at Langside. Henceforth the Castle, where they resided, was a danger to Edinburgh, and in July, 1571, Knox, by agreement of both parties there, was sent for a twelvemonth to St Andrews to be out of harm's way. He had left Edinburgh in wholly broken health, after a fit of apoplexy: he returned feebler still, and had a colleague at once appointed. Yet when the news came from Paris, in September, 1572, of the great massacre of St Bartholomew, Knox himself took charge of organising the protest of Scotland against the gigantic crime. But that crime of France saved Scotland, and the voice of Scotland's leader was no longer needed. The end was now near, and while 'so feeble as scarce can he stand alone' he sends a farewell message to 'Mr Secretary Cecil' through Killigrew, the new English envoy.

'John Knox 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.'[116]

And with an explosion, equally characteristic, against one who had anonymously accused Knox of 'seeking support against his native country,' we may close our notices of this great public life.

'I give him a lie in his throat!... What I have been to my country, although this unthankful age will not know, yet the ages to come will be compelled to bear witness to the truth.... To me it seems a thing most unreasonable, that, in this my decrepit age, I should be compelled to fight against shadows and howlets, that dare not abide the light!'[117]

[102] 'Works,' ii. 126.

[103] So much was this looked forward to, that two months before the death of her husband King Francis, the English ambassador, writing from Paris to London of the King's feeble health, says: 'There is much talk of the Queen's second marriage. Some talk of the Prince of Spain, some of the Duke of Austrich, others of the Earl of Arran.

[104] 'Works,' ii. 277.

[105] 'To Kings, Princes, Rulers, and Magistrates we affirm that, chiefly and most principally, the reformation and purgation of the Religion appertains, so that, not only are they appointed for civil policy, but also for maintenance of the true Religion, and for suppressing of idolatry and superstition whatsoever.... And, therefore, we confess and avow that such as resist the supreme power (doing that thing which appertains to his charge) do resist God's ordinance, and therefore cannot be guiltless.'—'Works,' ii. 119.

[106] Mary may not have met a Protestant teacher before, except those whom she and her husband had more than once viewed suffering on the scaffold; but she had read books like the Colloquies of Erasmus with keen appreciation, she was instructed in the great controversy from the Catholic side, and one of the youthful exercises which remain written in her girlish hand is a letter to John Calvin in defence of purgatory.

[107] See Hume Brown, ii. 171, note.

[108] 'Works,' ii. 276. Her answer to the General Assembly in 1565, was that 'she prays all her loving subjects, seeing they have had experience of her goodness, that she neither has in times past, nor yet means hereafter to press the conscience of any man, but that they may worship God in such sort as they are persuaded to be best, that they also will not press her to offend her own conscience.'—'Book of the Universall Kirk,' p. 34.

[109] The Pope had already, since her husband's death, sent her the Golden Rose, with the suggestion that in Scotland she must be a rose among thorns.

[110] Labanoff's 'Lettres de Marie Stuart,' i. 177.

[111] Page 89.

[112] The dates are indicated generally in Hill Burton's 'History,' iv, 133.

[113] Labanoffs 'Lettres de Marie Stuart,' i. 342.

[114] Page 28.

[115] Page 113.

[116] 'Works,' vi. 633.

[117] 'Works,' vi. 596.



CHAPTER VII

CLOSING YEARS AND DEATH

It is time to part from the public life of the greatest public man whom Scotland has known. That side of Knox's work, attractively presented to the world at first in the memorable biography of Dr Thomas M'Crie, has been admirably restated by Dr Hume Brown for a later age and from his own judicial standpoint. But Knox's public life was not the whole of his work: in bulk, it was a small part of it. When he became minister of Edinburgh in 1560 there was only one church there; St Cuthberts and Canongate were country parishes outside. It was some years before he got a colleague; and, as sole minister of Edinburgh, he preached twice every Sunday and three times during the week to audiences which sometimes were numbered by thousands. Once a week he attended a Kirk Session; once a week he was a member of the assembly or meeting of the neighbouring elders for their 'prophesying' or 'exercise on Scripture.' Often he was sent away to different districts of the country on preaching visitations under the orders of the Church. But when Knox was at home, his preparations for the pulpit, which were regular and careful, and his other pastoral work, challenged his whole time. And this work was carried on in two places chiefly; in St Giles, which now became the High Church of Edinburgh, and in his house or lodging, which was always in or near the Netherbow, a few hundred yards farther down the High Street. The picturesque old building 'in the throat of the Bow,' which attracts innumerable visitors as the traditional house where Knox died, was not that in which he spent most part of his Edinburgh life. From 1560 down to about the time of his second marriage he lived in a 'great mansion' on the west side of Turing's or Trunk Close; and thereafter for some years in a house on the east side of the same close. Neither of them now exists; but the entrance into the High Street from both was under the windows of the third or Netherbow house, which is shewn in modern times, and which was probably ready for Knox's reception, if not earlier, at least when he came back from his latest visit to St Andrews. In these he kept his books, which constituted much the larger part of his personal property—('you will not always be at your book,' Queen Mary had said, as she turned her back upon him in closing their second interview). And with them, and with helps from the old logic and the new learning (for while abroad he had added Hebrew to his previous instruments of Greek and Latin) he studied hour by hour for the sermons which he delivered—and their delivery also lasted hour after hour—in the great church. In that church there was occasionally much to draw even the vulgar eye. One day it was Huntly, the great Catholic Earl, the most famous man in Knox's opinion among the nobility of Scotland for three hundred years for 'both felicity and worldly wisdom,' whose huge bulk as he had sat opposite to the preacher (the year before he died 'without stroke of sword' on the field of Corrichie) was afterwards, thus vividly recalled.

'Have ye not seen one greater than any of you sitting where presently ye sit, pick his nails, and pull down his bonnet over his eyes, when idolatry, witchcraft, murder, oppression, and such vices were rebuked? Was not his common talk, When the knaves have railed their fill, then will they hold their peace?'[118]

Or, again, it was the French Ambassador, Le Croc, sitting in state on the first Sunday after the news of St Bartholomew, who heard the preacher denounce his master, King Charles, as a 'murderer,' from whom and from whose posterity the vengeance of God would refuse to depart. But these were incidents dramatic and political. And noble as a political calling may be, there have always been some to believe that drawing men and women up to a higher moral life, especially when that life is fed from an immortal hope, is nobler still. But Knox, let us remember, was throughout his early ministry the witness of a still more fascinating and indeed unexampled spectacle—a whole generation suddenly confronted with the moral call of primitive Christianity, and striving to respond to it, no longer in dependence on Church tradition, but by each man moulding himself directly upon Christian facts and Christian promises in the very form in which these were originally delivered by the apostolic age. He was witness of it; and more than witness, for beyond any other man in Scotland Knox was its guide. And while the guidance of the great theological leaders of that generation tended naturally—and quite apart from their usurped statutory ascendency—to press too heavily upon the recovered freedom of Scotland, that danger was but little felt in those early days of enthusiasm in the High Church of Edinburgh.

* * * * *

What like was the man who was seen, almost every day during all those years, pacing up and down between the Netherbow and St Giles?

Knox, as we are told by a surviving contemporary (who enclosed a portrait of him along with the description), was a man of slightly less than middle height, but with broadish shoulders, limbs well put together, and long fingers. He had a rather swarthy face, with black hair, and a beard a span and a half long, also black, but latterly turning grey. The face was somewhat long, the nose decidedly so, the mouth large, and the lips full, so that the upper lip in particular seemed to be swollen. The chief peculiarity of his face was that his eyes—sunk between a rather narrow forehead, with a strong ridge of eyebrow, above, and ruddy and swelling cheeks, below—looked hollow and retreating. But those eyes were of a darkish blue colour, their glance was keen and vivid, and the whole face was 'not unpleasing.' We can easily believe that 'in his settled and severe countenance there dwelt a natural dignity and majesty, which was by no means ungracious, but in anger authority sat upon his brow.'[119]

This seems to be a true portraiture of Knox in the days of his vigour; if we are to speak of vigour in the case of a man with a small and frail body (one of his early biographers speaks of him as a mere corpuscle), and a man throughout his whole public life struggling with disease. In the last year of his prematurely 'decrepit age,' we have another description of him; and this time it is taken in St Andrews. Edinburgh and Leith were now again at war, and the quarter of Knox's house was the most unsafe in the city. The 'King's Men' outside were always attempting to force the Netherbow Port; and their guns, planted close by on the Dow Craig,[120] and a little farther off on Salisbury Crags, smote from either side. They were crossed and answered, not only by the great guns of the castle, held by the Queen's Men under Kirkaldy, but by a nearer battery on the Blackfriars' Yard, and by guns planted on the roof of St Giles (the biggest of which the soldiers of course christened 'John Knox'). In these circumstances Knox was safer away; and from May 1571 to August 1572 his residence was St Andrews. There the mild James Melville, a student at St Leonards, watched the old man with the wistful reverence of youth.

'I saw him every day of his doctrine go hulie and fear,[121] with a furring of martricks about his neck, a staff in the one hand, and good godly Richard Ballanden, his servant, holding up the other oxter,[122] 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 before he had done with his sermon, he was so active and vigorous that he was like to ding that pulpit in blads,[123] and fly out of it!'[124] And the impact on the mind of the youthful Melville was scarcely less than that on the pulpit. He had his 'pen and little book,' and for the first half hour of Knox's sermon, took down 'such things as I could comprehend'; but when the preacher 'entered to the application of his text he made me so to grue[125] and tremble that I could not hold a pen to write!'[126]

But his day was rapidly moving to its close; and Knox, without waiting for his return to Edinburgh, now wrote his Will. In it, after an unexpectedly mild address to the Papists, and a prophecy (which was not fulfilled) that his death would turn out a worse thing for them than his life, he turns to the other side, and in one striking paragraph sums up the work that was now to close.

'To the faithful I protest, that God, by my mouth, be I never so abject, has shewn to you His truth in all simplicity. None I have corrupted; none I have defrauded; merchandise have I not made (to God's glory I write) of the glorious Evangel of Jesus Christ. But according to the measure of the grace granted unto me, I have divided the sermon [word] of truth into just parts: beating down the pride of the proud in all that did declare their rebellion against God, according as God in His law gives to me yet testimony; and raising up the consciences troubled with the knowledge of their own sins, by the declaring of Jesus Christ, the strength of His death, and the mighty operation of His resurrection in the hearts of the faithful.'

When (still before leaving St Andrews) he publishes his last book, he dedicates it to the faithful 'that God of His mercy shall appoint to fight after me;' and he adds, 'I heartily salute and take my good-night of all the faithful of both realms ... for as the world is weary of me, so am I of it.' In those darkening days, even when he is merely to write his subscription, it is 'John Knox, with my dead hand but glad heart.' For in this inevitable anti-climax of failing life, Knox found his compensations not in the world, nor even in the Church. When he returned to Edinburgh, he had become unable for pastoral work. 'All worldly strength, yea, even in things spiritual,' he writes to his expected colleague, 'decays, and yet never shall the work of God decay.... Visit me, that we may confer together on heavenly things: for, in earth, there is no stability, except in the Kirk of Jesus Christ, ever fighting under the cross. Haste, ere you come too late.' His colleague hurried from Aberdeen to Edinburgh, and at his induction Knox appeared and spoke once more in public. But it was the last time, and at the close of the service the whole congregation accompanied the failing steps of their minister down to the Netherbow. And from that 9th November 1572 he never left his house.

* * * * *

We have at least two accounts of his death—one in Latin from a colleague, one in Scots by his old servitor and secretary; and the latter seems to have the merit of admiring and indiscriminating faithfulness. It is often said that such death-bed narratives are worthless, unless judged by the light thrown upon them from the previous life. It is true. Yet Death, too, is a great critic; and, at least when that previous life has included a problem, (as we have thought to be the case here), it may be well before we volunteer a verdict to listen to his summing up. It may finally divide, or it may reunite, the inward and outward elements which have co-existed in the life. And it may at least reveal which of them was the ruling and radical characteristic. For while Knox had long been a beacon-light to Scotland, we have had reason to think that the flame was first kindled in this man's own soul. But now that the fuel which fed it is withdrawn, will that flame sink into the socket? Will it flicker out, now that the airs which fanned it have become still? How will it behave in the chill that falls from those winnowing wings?

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