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FROM HIS INVITATION INTO SCOTLAND, BY THE PROTESTANT NOBILITY, TO HIS SETTLEMENT AS MINISTER OF EDINBURGH, UPON THE ESTABLISHMENT OF THE REFORMATION This invitation Knox laid before his congregation, and also submitted to Calvin and his colleagues. The latter delivered it as their opinion, “that he could not refuse the call, without showing himself rebellious to God, and unmerciful to his country”. His congregation agreed to sacrifice their particular interest to the greater good of the Church; and his own family silently acquiesced. Upon this, he returned an answer to the letter of the nobility, signifying, that he meant to visit them with all reasonable expedition. Accordingly, after seeing the congregation agreeably provided with a pastor in his room, and settling his other affairs, he took an affectionate leave of his friends at Geneva, and went to Dieppe, in the beginning of October. While he waited there for a vessel, he received letters from Scotland, written in a very different strain from the former. These informed him, that new consultations had been held; that some began to repent of the invitation which they had given him to return to Scotland; and that the greater part seemed irresolute and faint-hearted.
This intelligence exceedingly disconcerted and embarrassed him. He instantly dispatched a letter to the nobility who had invited him, upbraiding them for their timidity and inconstancy. The information, which he had just received, had, he said, confounded and pierced him with sorrow. After taking the advice of the most learned and godly in Europe, for the satisfaction of his own conscience and theirs respecting this enterprise, the abandonment of it would reflect disgrace upon either him or them: it would argue either that he had been marvelously forward and vain, or else that they had betrayed great imprudence and want of judgment in their invitation. To some it might appear a small matter, that he had left his poor family destitute of a head, and committed the care of his small but dearly beloved flock to another; but, for his part, he could not name the sum that would induce him to go through the same scene a second time, and to behold so many grave men weeping at his departure. What answer could he give, on his return, to those who inquired, why he did not prosecute his journey? He could take God to witness, that the personal inconveniences to which he had been subjected, or the mortification which he felt at the disappointment, was not the chief cause of his grief. But he was alarmed at the awful consequences which would ensue, at the bondage and misery, spiritual and temporal, which they would entail upon themselves and their children, their subjects and their posterity, if they neglected the present opportunity of introducing the gospel into their native country. In conscience, he could except from blame in this matter, none that bare the name of nobility in Scotland. His words might seem sharp and indiscreet; but charity would construe them in the best sense, and wise men would consider that a true friend cannot flatter, especially in a case which involved the salvation of body and soul, not of a few persons, but of a whole realm. “What are the sobs, and what is the affliction of my troubled heart, God shall one day declare. But this will I add to my former rigor and severity; to wit, if any persuade you, for fear of dangers to follow, to faint in your former purpose, be he esteemed never so wise and friendly, let him be judged of you both foolish, and your mortal enemy... . I am not ignorant that fearful troubles shall ensue your enterprise; as in my former letters I did signify unto you.
But, O! joyful and comfortable are those troubles and adversities which man sustaineth for accomplishment of God’s will revealed in His Word. For how terrible that ever they appear to the judgment of natural men, yet are they never able to devour nor utterly to consume the sufferers; for the invisible and invincible power of God sustaineth and preserveth according to His promise, all such as with simplicity do obey Him... . No less cause have ye to enter in your former enterprise, than Moses had to go to the presence of Pharaoh; for your subjects, yea, your brethren, are oppressed; their bodies and souls holden in bondage: and God speaketh to your consciences (unless ye be dead with the blind world), that ye ought to hazard your own lives, be it against kings or emperors, for their deliverance. For, only for that cause are ye called princes of the people, and receive honor, tribute, and homage at God’s commandment, not by reason of your birth and progeny (as the most part of men falsely do suppose), but by reason of your office and duty; which is, to vindicate and deliver your subjects and brethren from all violence and oppression, to the uttermost of your power.”
Having sent off this letter, with others, written in the same strain, to Erskine of Dun, Wishart of Pittarrow, and some other gentlemen of his acquaintance, he resolved to spend some time in the interior of France, hoping to receive in a little more favorable accounts from Scotland. The Reformed doctrine had been early introduced into the kingdom of France; it had been watered with the blood of many martyrs; and all the violence and barbarity which had been employed, had not been able to extirpate it, or prevent it from spreading among all ranks. The Parisian Protestants were at present smarting under the effects of one of those massacres which so often disgraced the Roman Catholic religion in that country, before as well as after the commencement of the civil wars. Not satisfied with assaulting them when peaceably assembled for worship in a private house, and treating them with great barbarity, their adversaries, in imitation of their pagan predecessors, invented the most diabolical calumnies against them, and circulated every where, that they were guilty of committing the most flagitious crimes in their assemblies. The innocent sufferers had drawn up an apology, vindicating themselves from this atrocious charge, and Knox having got a copy of this, translated it into English, and wrote a preface and additions to it, intending to publish it for the use of his countrymen.
Having acquired the French language, and formed an acquaintance with many of the Protestants, he occasionally preached to them in passing through the country. It seems to have been on the present occasion, that he preached in the city of Rochelle, when, having introduced the subject of his native country, he told his audience that he expected, within a few years, to preach in the church of St. Giles, in Edinburgh. There is nothing in our Reformer’s letters from which I can learn whether he found any Protestants in Dieppe, a place which he so often visited during his exile: it is probable he did; for at an early period of the following century they had a very numerous Church in that town.
Having received no intelligence of an encouraging nature, Knox determined to relinquish for the present his design of proceeding to Scotland. This resolution does not accord with the usual firmness of our Reformer, and is not sufficiently accounted for in the common histories. The Protestant nobles had not retracted their invitation; the discouraging letters which he had received were written by individuals, without any commission from them; and if their zeal and courage had begun to flag, there was the more need of his presence to recruit them. His private letters to his familiar acquaintances enable me to state more fully the motives by which he was actuated in taking this retrograde step. He was perfectly aware of the struggle which would be necessary in effectuating the Reformation; that his presence in Scotland would excite the rage of the clergy, who would make every effort to crash their adversaries, and maintain the lucrative system of corruption; and that civil discord, confusion, and bloodshed might be expected to ensue. The prospect of these things rushed into his mind, and (regardless of public tranquillity as some have pronounced him to be) staggered his resolution in prosecuting an undertaking which his judgment approved as lawful, laudable and necessary. “When,” says he, “I heard such troubles as appeared in that realm, I began to dispute with myself as followeth: ‘Shall Christ, the author of peace, concord, and quietness, be preached where war is proclaimed, sedition engendered, and tumults appear to rise? Shall not His evangel be accused as the cause of all this calamity, which is like to follow? What comfort canst thou have to see the one half of the people rise up against the other, yea, to jeopard the one, to murder and destroy the other? But, above all, what joy shall it be to thy heart, to behold with thy eyes thy native country betrayed in [to] the hands of strangers, which to no man’s judgment can be avoided; because that those who ought to defend it, and the liberty thereof, are so blind, dull, and obstinate, that they will not see their own destruction?’” To “these and more deep cogitations” (which continued to distract his mind for several months after he returned to Geneva) he principally imputed his abandonment of the journey to Scotland. At the same time, he was convinced that they were not sufficient to justify his desisting from an undertaking, recommended by so many powerful considerations. “But alas!” says he, “as the wounded man, be he never so expert in physic or surgery, cannot suddenly mitigate his own pain and dolor; no more can I the fear and grief of my heart, although I am not ignorant of what is to be done. It may also be, that the doubts and cold writing of some brethren did augment my dolor, and somewhat discourage me that before was more nor [than] feeble. But nothing do I so much accuse as myself.” Whatever were the secondary causes of this step, I cannot but again direct the reader’s attention to the wisdom of Providence, in throwing impediments in his way, by which his return to Scotland was protracted to a period, before which it might have been injurious, and at which it was calculated to be in the highest degree useful to the great cause which he had at heart.
Before he left Dieppe, he transmitted two long letters to Scotland: the one, dated 1st December 1557, was addressed to the Protestants in general, the other, dated the 17th of the same month, was directed to the nobility. In judging of Knox’s influence in advancing the Reformation, we must take into view not only his personal labors, but also the epistolary correspondence which he maintained with his countrymen. By this, he instructed them in his absence, communicated his own advice, and that of the learned among whom he resided, upon every difficult case which occurred, and animated them to constancy and perseverance. The letters which he wrote at this time deserve particular attention in this view. In both of them he prudently avoids any reference to his late disappointment.
In the first letter he strongly inculcates purity of morals, and warns all who professed the Reformed religion against those irregularities of life, which were improved to the disparagement of their cause, by two classes of persons; by the papists, who, although the same vices prevailed in a far higher degree among themselves, represented them as the native fruits of the Protestant doctrine; and by a new sect, who were enemies to superstition, and had belonged to their own society, but having deserted it, had become scarcely less hostile to them than the papists. The principal design of this letter was to put them on their guard against the arts of this class of persons, and to expose their leading errors.
The persons to whom he referred were those who went under the general name of Anabaptists, a sect which sprung up in Germany, soon after the commencement of the Reformation under Luther, broke out into the greatest excesses, and produced the most violent commotions in different places. Being suppressed in Germany, it spread through other countries, and secretly made converts by high pretensions to seriousness and Christian simplicity; the spirit of turbulence and wild fanaticism, which at first characterized the sect, gradually subsiding after the first effervescence. Ebullitions of a similar kind have not infrequently accompanied great revolutions; when the minds of men, dazzled by a sudden irradiation, and released from the galling fetters of despotism, civil or ecclesiastical, have been disposed to fly to the opposite extreme of anarchy and extravagance. Nothing proved more vexing to the original Reformers than this; it was improved by the defenders of the old system as a popular argument against all mutation; and many who had declared themselves friendly to reform, alarmed, or pretending to be alarmed, at this hideous spectre, drew back, and sheltered themselves within the sacred pale of the Catholic Church.
The radical error of this sect, according to the more improved system held by them at the time of which I write, was a fond conceit of a certain ideal perfection and spirituality which belonged to Christians and the Christian Church, by which they differed essentially, and by the greatest possible difference, from the Jewish Church, which they looked upon as a carnal, worldly society. By this, they were naturally led to abridge the rule of faith and manners, by confining themselves almost entirely to the New Testament and to adopt their other opinions, concerning the unlawfulness of infant baptism, civil magistracy, national Churches, oaths, and defensive war. But besides these notions, the Anabaptists were, at this period, generally infected with the Arian and Pelagian heresies, and united with the papists in loading the doctrines maintained by the Reformers, respecting predestination and grace, with the most odious charges.
Our Reformer had occasion to meet with some of these sectaries both in England and on the Continent, and had ascertained their extravagant and dangerous principles. He was apprised that they were creeping into Scotland, and was afraid that they would insidiously instill their poison into the minds of some of his brethren. He refuted their opinion respecting Church communion, by showing that they required such purity as was never found in the Church, either before or since the completion of the canon of Scripture. In opposition to their Pelagian tenets, he gave the following statement of his sentiments. “If there be any thing which God did not predestinate and appoint, then lacked He wisdom and free regimen; or, if any thing was ever done, or yet after shall be done in heaven or in earth, which He might not have impeded, if so had been His godly pleasure, then is He not omnipotent; which three properties, to wit, wisdom, free regimen, and power, denied to be in God, I pray you what rests in His godhead? The wisdom of our God we acknowledge to be such, that it compelleth the very malice of Satan, and the horrible iniquity of such as be drowned in sin, to serve to His glory and to the profit of His elect. His power we believe and confess to be infinite, and such as no creature in heaven or earth is able to resist. And His regimen we acknowledge to be so free, that none of His creatures dare present them in judgment, to reason, or demand the question, Why hast Thou done this or that? But the fountain of this their damnable error, which is, that in God they can acknowledge no justice except that which their foolish brain is able to comprehend, at more opportunity, God willing, we shall entreat.”
He assigns his reasons for warning them so particularly against the seduction of these erroneous teachers. Under the cloak of mortification, and the color of a godly life, they “supplanted the dignity of Christ”, and “were become enemies to free justification by faith in His blood”. The malice of their popish adversaries was now visible to all the world. The hypocrisy of mercenary teachers and ungodly professors would soon discover itself. Seldom was open tyranny able to suppress the true religion, when once earnestly embraced by the body of any nation or province. “But deceivable and false doctrine is a poison and venom, which, once drunken, and received, with great difficulty can afterward be purged.”
Accordingly, he obtested them to “try the spirits” which came unto them, and to suffer no man to take the office of preacher upon him, of his own accord, without trial, and to assemble the people in privy conventions; else Satan would soon have his emissaries among them, who would “destroy the plantation of our heavenly Father”. His admonitions, on this head, were not without effect; and the Protestants of Scotland were not distracted with these opinions, but remained united in their views, as to doctrine, worship, and discipline.
His letter to the Protestant lords breathes a spirit of ardent and noble piety. He endeavors to purify their minds from selfish and worldly principles; to raise, sanctify, and Christianize their motives, by exhibiting and recommending to them the spirit and conduct of the princes and heroes, celebrated, not in profane, but sacred story. The glory of God, the advancement of the kingdom of Jesus Christ, the salvation of themselves and their brethren, the emancipation of their country from spiritual and civil thraldom; these, and not their own honor and aggrandisement, or the revenging of their petty, private quarrels, were the objects which they ought to keep steadily and solely in view.
In this letter, he also communicates his advice on the delicate question of resistance to supreme rulers. They had consulted him on this question, and he had submitted it to the judgment of the most learned on the Continent.
Soon after the marriage of their young Queen to the Dauphin of France, the Scots began to be jealous of the designs of the French court against their liberties and independence. Their jealousies increased after the Regency was transferred to the Queen Dowager, who was wholly devoted to the interests of France, and had contrived, under different pretexts, to keep a body of French troops in the kingdom. It was not difficult to excite to resistance the independent and haughty barons of Scotland, accustomed to yield but a very limited and precarious obedience even to their native princes. They had lately given a proof of this, by their refusal to cooperate in the war against England, which they considered as undertaken merely for French interests. How did our Reformer act upon this occasion? Did he lay hold on this occurrence, and attempt to inflame the irascible minds of the nobility? Did he persuade them to join with the Earl of Arran and others, who were discontented with the measures of government, and to endeavor in this way to advance their cause? No; on the contrary, he wrote that rumors were circulated on the Continent, that a rebellion was intended in Scotland; and he solemnly charged all that professed the Protestant religion to avoid all accession to it, and to beware of countenancing those who, for the sake of worldly promotion, and other private ends, sought to disturb the government. The nobility were the guardians of the national liberties, and there were limits, beyond which obedience was not due; but recourse ought not to be had to resistance, until matters were tyrannically driven to extremity. It was incumbent on them to be very circumspect in all their proceedings, that their adversaries might have no reason to allege, that they covered a seditious and rebellious design with the cloak of religion. His advice to them, therefore, was that, by dutiful and cheerful obedience to all lawful commands, and by humble and repeated requests, they should endeavor to recommend themselves to the supreme authority, and procure its favor in promoting, or, at least, not persecuting the cause in which they were embarked. If all their endeavors failed, and the Regent refused to consent to a public Reformation, they ought to provide that the gospel should be preached, and the sacraments administered to themselves and their brethren; and if attempts were made to crush them by tyrannical violence, it was lawful for them, nay, it was a duty incumbent upon them, in their high station, to stand up in defense of their brethren. “For a great difference there is betwixt lawful, obedience, and a fearful flattering of princes, or an unjust accomplishment of their desires, in things which be required, or devised, for the destruction of a commonwealth.”
Knox returned to Geneva in the end of the year 1557. During the following year, he was engaged, along with several learned men of his congregation, in making a new translation of the Bible into English; which, from the place where it was composed and first printed, obtained the name of the Geneva Bible. It was at this time that he published his “Letter to the Queen Regent”, and his “Appellation and Exhortation”; both of which were transmitted to Scotland, and contributed not a little to the spread of the Reformed opinions. I have already given an account of the first of these tracts, which was chiefly intended for removing the prejudices of Catholics. The last was more immediately designed for instructing and animating such as were friendly to the Reformed religion. Addressing himself to the nobility and estates, he shows that the care and reformation of religion belonged to civil rulers, and constituted one of the primary duties of their office. This was a dictate of nature as well as revelation; and he would not insist long upon that topic, lest he should seem to suppose them “less careful over God’s true religion, than were the Ethnikes [heathen] over their idolatry”. Inferior magistrates, within the sphere of their jurisdiction, the nobles and estates of a kingdom, as well as kings and princes, were bound to attend to this high duty. He then addresses himself to the commonalty of Scotland, and points out their duty and interest, with regard to the important controversy in agitation. They were rational creatures, formed after the image of God; they had souls to be saved; they were accountable for their conduct; they were bound to judge of the truth of religion, and to make profession of it, as well as kings, nobles, or bishops. If idolatry was maintained, if the gospel was suppressed, if the blood of the innocent was shed, how could they be exculpated, provided they kept silence, and did not exert themselves to prevent these evils.
But the most singular treatise published this year by Knox, and that which made the greatest noise, was “The First Blast of the Trumpet Against the Monstrous Regiment of Women”, in which he attacked, with great vehemence, the practice of admitting females to the government of nations.
There is some reason to think that his mind was struck with the incongruity of this practice, as early as Mary’s accession to the throne of England. This was probably one of the points on which he had conferred with the Swiss divines in 1554. It is certain, from a letter written by him in 1556, that his sentiments respecting it were then fixed and decided. He continued, however, to retain them to himself; and refrained for a considerable time from publishing them, out of deference to the opinions of others. But at last, provoked by the tyranny of the Queen of England, and wearied out with her increasing cruelties, he applied the Trumpet to his mouth, and uttered a terrible blast. “To promote a woman to bear rule, superiority, dominion, or empire, above any realm, nation or city, is repugnant to nature, contumely to God, a thing most contrarious to His revealed will and approved ordinance; and, finally, it is the subversion of all equity and justice.” Such is the first sentence and principal proposition of the work. The arguments by which he endeavors to establish it are, that nature intended the female sex for subjection, not superiority to the male, as appears from their infirmities, corporeal and mental (he excepts, however, such as God, “by singular privilege, and for certain causes, exeemed from the common rank of women”); that the divine law, announced at the creation of the first pair, had expressly assigned to man the dominion over woman, and commanded her to be subject to him; that female government was not permitted among the Jews; is contrary to apostolical injunctions; and leads to the perversion of government, and many pernicious consequences.
Knox’s theory on this subject was far from being novel. In confirmation of this opinion, he could appeal to the constitutions of the free states of antiquity, and to the authority of their legislators and philosophers. In the kingdom of France, females were, by an express law, excluded from succeeding to the crown. Edward VI., some time before his death, had proposed to the Privy Council the adoption of this law in England; but the motion, not suiting the ambitious views of the Duke of Northumberland, was overruled. Though his opinion was sanctioned by such high authorities, he was by no means sanguine in his expectations as to the reception of this performance. He tells us, in his preface, that he laid his account not only with the indignation of those interested in the support of the reprobated practice, but with the disapprobation of such gentle spirits among the learned, as would be alarmed at the boldness of the attack. He did not doubt, that he would be called “curious, despiteful, a sower of sedition, and one day perchance attainted for treason”: but, in uttering a truth of which he was deeply convinced, he was determined to “cover his eyes and shut his ears” from these dangers and obloquies. He was not disappointed in his apprehensions. It exposed him to the resentment of two queens, during whose reign it was his lot to live; the one his native princess, and the other exercising a sway in Scotland, scarcely inferior to that of any of its monarchs. Several of the exiles approved of his opinion, and few of them would have been displeased at seeing it reduced to practice, at the time when the “Blast” was published. But Queen Mary dying soon after it appeared, and her sister Elizabeth succeeding her, they raised a great outcry against it.
John Foxe wrote a letter to the author, in which he expostulated with him, in a very friendly manner, as to the impropriety of the publication, and the severity of its language. Knox, in his reply, did not excuse his “rude vehemency and inconsiderate affirmations, which might appear rather to proceed from choler than of zeal and reason”; but signified that he was still persuaded of the principal proposition which he had maintained.
His original intention was to blow his “Trumpet” thrice, and to publish his name with the last “Blast” to prevent the odium from falling on any other person. But, finding that it gave offense to many of his brethren, and being desirous to strengthen rather than invalidate the authority of Elizabeth, he relinquished the design of prosecuting the subject. He retained his sentiments to the last, but abstained from any further declaration of them, and from replying to his opponents; although he was provoked by their censures and triumph, and, in his private letters, sometimes hinted that he would break silence, if they did not study greater moderation.
In the course of the following year, an answer to the “Blast” appeared, under the title of “An Harborow 1 for Faithful Subjects” Though anonymous, like the book to which it was a reply, it was soon declared to be the production of John Aylmer, one of the English refugees on the Continent, who had been archdeacon of Stowe, and tutor to Lady Jane Grey. It was not undertaken until the accession of Elizabeth, and was written (as Aylmer’s biographer informs us) “upon a consultation holden among the exiles, the better to obtain the favor of the new queen, and to take off any jealousy she might conceive of them, and of the religion which they professed” This, with some other circumstances, led Knox to express his suspicion, that the author had accommodated his doctrine to the times, and courted the favor of the reigning princess, by flattering her vanity and love of power. It is certain, that if Knox is entitled to the praise of boldness and disinterestedness, Aylmer carried away the palm for prudence: the latter was advanced to the bishopric of London; the former could, with great difficulty, obtain leave to set his foot again upon English ground. As Knox’s “Trumpet” would never have sounded its alarm, had it not been for the tyranny of Mary, there is reason to think that Aylmer’s “Harborow” would never have been opened “for faithful subjects”, but for the auspicious succession of Elizabeth.
This, however, is independent of the merits of the question, which I do not feel inclined to examine minutely. The change which has taken place in the mode of administering government, in modern times, renders it of less practical importance than it was formerly, when so much depended upon the personal talents and activity of the reigning prince. It may be added, that the evils incident to a female reign will be less felt under such a constitution as that of Britain, than under a pure and absolute monarchy.
This last consideration is urged by Aylmer; and here his reasoning is most satisfactory. The “Blast” bears the marks of hasty composition. The “Harborow” has been written with great care; it contains a good collection of historical facts bearing on the question; and though more distinguished for rhetorical exaggeration than logical precision, the reasoning is ingeniously conducted, and occasionally enlivened by strokes of humor. It is, upon the whole, a curious as well as rare work.
After all, it is easier to vindicate the expediency of continuing the practice, where it has been established by laws and usage, than to support the affirmative, when the question is propounded as a general thesis on government. It may fairly be questioned, if Aylmer has refuted the principal arguments of his opponent; and had Knox deemed it prudent to rejoin, he might have exposed the fallacy of his arguments in different instances. In replying to the argument from the apostolical canon (1 Timothy 2:11-14), the archdeacon is not a little puzzled. Distrusting his distinction between the greater office, “the ecclesiastical function”, and the less, “extern[al] policy”; he argues that the apostle’s prohibition may be considered as temporary, and peculiarly applicable to the women of his own time; and he insists that his clients shall not be completely excluded from teaching and ruling in the Church, any more than in the state. “Methinks,” says he very seriously, “even in this point, we must use a certain moderation, not absolutely, and in every wise, to debar them herein (as it shall please God) to serve Christ. Are there not, in England, women, think you, that for their learning and wisdom, could tell their households and neighbors as good a tale as the best Sir John there?” Who can doubt that the learned Lady Elizabeth, who could direct the Dean of her chapel to “keep to his text”, was able to make as good a sermon as any of her clergy or that she was better qualified for the other parts of the duty, when she composed a book of prayers for herself, while they were obliged to use one made to their hands? In fact, the view which the archdeacon gave of the text was necessary to vindicate the authority of his queen, who was head, or supreme governor of the Church as well as the state. She who, by law, had supreme authority over all archbishops, bishops, etc., in the land, with power to superintend, suspend, and control them in all their ecclesiastical functions; who, by her injunctions, could direct the primate himself when to preach, and how to preach; who could license and silence ministers at her pleasure, had certainly the same right to assume the personal exercise of the office, if she chose to do so; and must have been bound very moderately indeed, by the apostolical prohibition, “I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence”.
There are some things in the “Harborow” which might have been unpalatable to the Queen, if the author had not taken care to sweeten them with that personal flattery, which was as agreeable to Elizabeth as to others of her sex and rank; and which he administered in sufficient quantities before concluding his work. The ladies will be ready to excuse a slight slip of the pen in the good archdeacon, in consideration of the handsome manner in which he has defended their right to rule; but they will scarcely believe that the following description of the sex could proceed from him. “Some women,” says he, “be wiser, better learned, discreter, constanter, than a number of men.” But others (his biographer says, “the most part”) he describes as “fond, foolish, wanton, flibbergibs, tatlers, trifling, wavering, witless, without counsel, feeble, careless, rash, proud, dainty, nice, tale-bearers, eavesdroppers, rumor-raisers, evil tongued, worse-minded, and, in every wise, doltified with the dregs of the devil’s dunghill”! The rude author of the monstrous “Blast” never spake of the sex in terms half so disrespectful as these. One would suppose that Aylmer had already renounced the character of advocate of the fair sex, and recanted his principles on that head; as he did respecting the titles and revenues of bishops, which he inveighed against before his return from exile, but afterwards accepted with little scruple; and, when reminded of the language which he formerly used, apologized for himself, by saying, “When I was a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things”. But it is time to return, from this digression, to the narrative.
Our Reformer’s letter to the Protestant Lords in Scotland produced its intended effect, in re-animating their drooping courage. At a consultative meeting held at Edinburgh, in December 1557, they unanimously resolved to adhere to one another, and exert themselves for the advancement of the Reformation. Having subscribed a solemn bond of mutual assurance, they renewed their invitation to Knox; and being afraid that he might hesitate on account of their former irresolution, they wrote to Calvin, to employ his influence to induce him to comply. Their letters did not reach Geneva until November 1558. By the same conveyance Knox received from Scotland letters of later date, communicating the most agreeable intelligence, respecting the progress which the Reformed cause had made, and the flourishing appearance which it continued to wear.
Through the exertions of our Reformer, during his residence among them in the beginning of the year 1556, and in pursuance of the instructions which he left behind him, the Protestants had formed themselves into congregations which met in different parts of the country with greater or less privacy, according to the opportunities which they enjoyed. Having come to the resolution of withdrawing from the popish worship, they endeavored to provide for their religious instruction and mutual edification, in the best manner that their circumstances permitted. As there were no ministers among them, they continued for some time to be deprived of the dispensation of the sacraments; but certain intelligent and pious men of their number were chosen, to read the Scriptures, exhort, and offer up prayers, in their assemblies. Convinced of the necessity of order and discipline in their societies, and desirous to have them organized, as far as within their power, agreeably to the institution of Christ, they next proceeded to choose elders, for the inspection of their manners, to whom they promised subjection; and deacons, for the collection and distribution of alms to the poor. Edinburgh was the first place in which this order was established; Dundee the first town in which a Reformed Church was completely organized, provided with a regular minister, and the dispensation of the sacraments.
During the war with England, which began in autumn 1556, and continued through the following year, the Protestants enjoyed considerable liberty; and, as they improved it with the utmost assiduity, their numbers rapidly increased. William Harlow, John Douglas, Paul Methven, and John Willock, who had again returned from Emden, now began to preach, with greater publicity, in different parts of the country. The popish clergy were not indifferent to these proceedings, and wanted not inclination to put a stop to them. They prevailed on the Queen Regent to summon the Protestant preachers; but the interposition of the gentlemen of the west country obliged her to abandon the process against them. At length, the clergy determined to revive those cruel measures which, since the year 1550, had been suspended by the political circumstances of the kingdom, more than by their clemency or moderation. On the 28th of April 1558, the Archbishop of St. Andrews committed to the flames Walter Milne, an aged priest, of the most inoffensive manners, and summoned several others to appear, on a charge of heresy, before a convention of the clergy at Edinburgh.
This barbarous and illegal execution produced effects of the greatest importance. It raised the horror of the nation to an incredible pitch; and as it was believed, at that time, that the Regent was not accessory to the deed, their indignation was directed wholly against the clergy. Throwing aside all fear, and those restraints which prudence, or a regard to established order, had hitherto imposed on them, the people now assembled openly to join in the Reformed worship, and avowed their determination to adhere to it at all hazards. The Protestant leaders laid their complaints, in a regular and respectful manner, before the Regent, and repeated their petition, that she would, by her authority, and in concurrence with the Parliament, restrain the tyrannical proceedings of the clergy, correct the flagrant and insufferable abuses which prevailed in the Church, and grant to them and their brethren the liberty of religious instruction and worship, at least according to a restricted plan, which they laid before her, and to which they were willing to submit, until such time as their grievances were deliberately examined and redressed. The Regent’s reply was such as to persuade them that she was friendly to their proposals: she promised that she would take measures for carrying them legally into effect, as soon as it was in her power; and that, in the mean time, they might depend on her protection.
It did not require many arguments to persuade Knox to comply with an invitation which was accompanied with such gratifying intelligence; and he began immediately to prepare for his journey to Scotland. The future settlement of the congregation under his charge occupied him for some time. Information being received of the death of Mary, Queen of England, and the accession of Elizabeth, the Protestant refugees hastened to return to their native country. The congregation at Geneva, having met to return thanks to God for this deliverance, agreed to send one of their number with letters to their brethren in different places of the Continent, particularly at Frankfurt, congratulating them on the late happy change, and requesting a confirmation of the mutual reconciliation which had already been effected, the burial of all past offenses, with a brotherly co-operation, in endeavoring to obtain such a settlement of religion in England as would be agreeable to all the sincere well-wishers of the Reformation. A favorable return to their letters being obtained, they took leave of the hospitable city, and set out for their native country. By them Knox sent letters to some of his former acquaintances, who were now in the court of Elizabeth, requesting permission to travel through England, on his way to Scotland.
In the month of January 1559, our Reformer took his leave of Geneva, for the last time. In addition to former marks of respect, the republic, before his departure, conferred on him the freedom of the city. He left his wife and family behind him, until he should ascertain that they could live with safety in Scotland. Upon his arrival at Dieppe, in the middle of March, he received information, that the English government had refused to grant him liberty to pass through their dominions. The request had appeared so reasonable in his own mind, considering the station which he had held in that country, and the object of his present journey, that he once thought of proceeding to London, without waiting a formal permission; yet it was not without some difficulty that those who presented it escaped imprisonment.
This impolitic severity was occasioned by the informations of some of the exiles, who had not forgotten the old quarrel at Frankfurt, and had accused of disloyalty and disaffection to the Queen, not only Knox, but all those who had been under his charge at Geneva, whom they represented as proselytes to the opinion which he had published against female government. There was not an individual who could believe that Knox had the most distant eye to Elizabeth in publishing the obnoxious book; nor a person of judgment who could seriously think that her government was exposed to the slightest danger from him or his associates, who felt no less joy at her auspicious accession than the rest of their brethren. If he had been imprudent in that publication, if he had “swerved from the particular question to the general”, his error (to use the words of his respondent) “rose not of malice, but of zeal, and by looking more to the present cruelty than to the inconveniences that after might follow”; and it was the part of generosity and policy to overlook the fault. Instead of this, Elizabeth and her counselors took up the charge in a serious light; and the accused were treated with such harshness and disdain, that they repented of leaving their asylum, to return to their native country. This conduct was the more inexcusable, as numbers who had been instrumental in the cruelties of the preceding reign, were admitted to favor, or allowed to remain unmolested; and even Bonner was allowed to present himself at court, and to retire with a simple frown.
The refusal of his request, and the harsh treatment of his flock, touched to the quick the irritable temper of our Reformer; and it was with some difficulty that he suppressed the desire, which he felt rising in his breast, to prosecute a controversy which he had resolved to abandon. But greater designs occupied his mind and engrossed his attention. It was not for the sake of personal safety, nor from vanity of appearing at court, that he desired to pass through England. He felt the natural wish to visit his old acquaintances in that country, and was anxious for an opportunity of addressing once more those to whom he had preached, especially at Newcastle and Berwick. But there was another object which he had still more at heart, in which the welfare of both England and Scotland were concerned.
Notwithstanding the flattering accounts which he received from his countrymen of the favorable disposition of the Queen Regent, and the directions which he sent them to cultivate this, he always entertained suspicions of the sincerity of her professions. But, since he left Geneva, they had been confirmed; and the information which he had procured, in traveling through France, conspired with the intelligence which he had lately received from Scotland, in convincing him, that the immediate suppression of the Reformation in his native country, and its consequent suppression in the neighboring kingdom, were intended. The plan projected by the gigantic ambition of the princes of Lorraine, brothers of the Queen Regent of Scotland, has been developed, and described with great accuracy and ability, by a celebrated modern historian. Suffice it to say here, that the court of France, under their influence, had resolved to set up the claim of the young Queen of Scots to the crown of England; to attack Elizabeth, and wrest the scepter from her hands as a bastard and a heretic; and, as Scotland was the only avenue by which this attack could be successfully made, to begin by suppressing the Reformation, and establishing their power in that country. Knox, in the course of his journeys through France, had formed an acquaintance with some persons about the court; and, by their means, had gained some knowledge of the plan. He was convinced that the Scottish Reformers were unable to resist the power of France, which was to be directed against them; and that it was the interest as well as duty, of the English court, to afford them the most effectual support. But he was afraid that a selfish and narrow policy might prevent them from doing this, until it was too late; and was therefore anxious to call their attention to this subject at an early period, and to put them in possession of the facts that had come to his knowledge.
The assistance which Elizabeth granted to the Scottish Protestants, in 1559 and 1560, was dictated by the soundest policy. It baffled and defeated the designs of her enemies at the very outset; it gave her an influence over Scotland, which all her predecessors could not obtain by the terror of their arms, nor the influence of their money; it secured the stability of her government, by extending and strengthening the Protestant interest, the principal pillar on which it rested. And it reflects not a little credit on our Reformer’s sagacity, that he had formed this plan in his mind at so early a period, was the first person who proposed it, and persisted (as we shall see) to urge its adoption, until his endeavors were crowned with success.
Deeply impressed with these considerations, he resolved, although he had already been twice repulsed, to brook the mortification, and make another attempt to obtain an interview with some confidential agent of the English government. With this view, he, on the 10th of April, wrote a letter to Secretary Cecil, with whom he had been personally acquainted during his residence in London. Adverting to the treatment of the exiles who had returned from Geneva, he exculpated them from all responsibility as to the offensive book which he had published, and assured him that he had not consulted with one of them previous to its publication. As for himself, he did not mean to deny that he was the author, nor was he yet prepared to retract the leading sentiment which it contained. But he was not, on that account, less friendly to the person and government of Elizabeth, in whose exaltation he cordially rejoiced; although he rested the defense of her authority upon grounds different from the common. This was the third time that he had craved liberty to pass through England. He had no desire to visit the court, nor to remain long in the country; but he was anxious to communicate to him, or some other trusty person, matters of importance, which it was not prudent to commit to writing, nor to entrust to an ordinary messenger. If his request was refused, it would turn out to the disadvantage of England.
The situation in which he stood, at this time, with the court of England, was so well known, that it was with difficulty that he could find a messenger to carry the letter; and, either despairing of the success of his application, or hastened by intelligence received from Scotland, he sailed from Dieppe on the 22nd of April, and landed safely at Leith in the beginning of May.
On his arrival, he found matters in the most critical state in Scotland. The Queen Regent had thrown off the mask which she had long worn, and avowed her determination forcibly to suppress the Reformation. As long as she stood in need of the assistance of the Protestants to support her authority against the Hamiltons, and procure the matrimonial crown for her son-in-law, the Dauphin of France, she courted their friendship, listened to their plans of reform, professed dissatisfaction with the corruption and tyranny of the ecclesiastical order, and her desire of correcting them as soon as a fit opportunity offered, and flattered them, if not with the hopes of her joining their party, at least with assurances that she would shield them from the fury of the clergy. So completely were they duped by her consummate address and dissimulation, that they complied with all her requests, restrained some of their preachers from teaching in public, and desisted from presenting to the late Parliament a petition which they had prepared; nor would they believe her insincere, even after different parts of her conduct had afforded strong grounds for suspicion. But, having accomplished the great objects which she had in view, she at last, in conformity with instructions from France, and secret engagements with the clergy, adopted measures which completely undeceived them, and discovered the gulf into which they were ready to be precipitated. Some of the Protestant leaders having waited on her to intercede in behalf of their preachers, who had been summoned by her, she told them in plain terms, that, “in spite of them, they should be all banished from Scotland, although they preached as truly as ever St. Paul did”: and when they reminded her of the repeated promises of protection that she had given them, she unblushingly replied, that “it became not subjects to burden their princes with promises, farther than they pleased to keep them”. They told her that, if she violated the engagements which she came under to her subjects, they would consider themselves as released from allegiance to her, and warned her very freely of the dangerous consequences; upon which she adopted milder language, and engaged to prevent the trial. But soon after, upon hearing that the exercise of the Reformed religion had been introduced into the town of Perth, she renewed the process, and summoned all the preachers to appear at Stirling, on the 10th of May, to undergo a trial.
The state of our Reformer’s mind, upon receiving this information, will appear from the following letter, hastily written by him on the day after he landed in Scotland. “The perpetual comfort of the Holy Ghost for salutation. “These few lines are to signify unto you, dear sister, that it hath pleased the merciful providence of my heavenly Father to conduct me to Edinburgh, where I arrived the 2nd of May: uncertain as yet what God shall further work in this country, except that I see the battle shall be great. For Satan rageth even to the uttermost, and I am come, I praise my God, even in the brunt of the battle. For my fellow preachers have a day appointed to answer before the Queen Regent, the 10th of this instant, when I intend (if God impede not) also to be present; by life, by death, or else by both, to glorify His godly name, who thus mercifully hath heard my long cries. Assist me, sister, with your prayers, that now I shrink not, when the battle approacheth. Other things I have to communicate unto you, but travel after travel doth so occupy me, that no time is granted me to write. Advertise my brother, Mr. Goodman, of my estate; as, in my other letter sent unto you from Dieppe, I willed you.
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ rest with you. From Edinburgh, in haste, the 3rd of May.”
Although his own cause was prejudged, and sentence already pronounced against him, he did not hesitate a moment in resolving to present himself voluntarily at Stirling, to assist his brethren in their defense, and share in their danger. Having rested only a single day at Edinburgh, he hurried to Dundee, where he found the principal Protestants in Angus and Mearns already assembled, determined to attend their ministers to the place of trial, and to avow their adherence to the doctrines for which they were accused. The providential arrival of such an able champion of the cause, at this crisis, must have been very encouraging to the assembly; and the liberty of accompanying them, which he requested, was readily granted.
Lest the unexpected approach of such a multitude, though unarmed, should alarm or offend the Regent, the “Congregation” (for so the Protestants began at this time to be called) agreed to stop at Perth, and sent Erskine of Dun before them to Stirling, to acquaint her with the peaceable object and manner of their coming. Apprehensive that their presence would disconcert her measures, the Regent had again recourse to dissimulation. She persuaded Erskine to write to his brethren to desist from their intended journey, and authorized him to promise, in her name, that she would put a stop to the trial. The Congregation testified their pacific intentions by a cheerful compliance with this request, and the greater part, confiding in the royal promise, returned to their homes. But when the day of trial came, the summons was called by the orders of the Queen, the accused were outlawed for not appearing, and all were prohibited, under the pain of rebellion, from harboring or assisting them.
Escaping from Stirling, Erskine brought to Perth the intelligence of this disgraceful transaction, which could not fail to incense the Protestants. It happened that, on the same day on which the news came, Knox, who remained at Perth, preached a sermon, in which he exposed the idolatry of the mass, and of image worship. Sermon being ended, the audience quietly dismissed; a few idle persons only loitered in the church, when an imprudent priest, wishing either to try the disposition of the people, or to show his contempt of the doctrine which had been just delivered, uncovered a rich altar-piece, decorated with images, and prepared to celebrate mass. A boy, having uttered some expressions of disapprobation, was struck by the priest. He retaliated by throwing a stone at the aggressor, which, falling on the altar, broke one of the images. This operated like a signal upon the people present, who had taken part with the boy; and, in the course of a few minutes, the altar, images, and all the ornaments of the church were torn down, and trampled under foot. The noise soon collected a mob, who, finding no employment in the church, by a sudden and irresistible impulse, flew upon the monasteries; nor could they be restrained by the authority of the magistrates and the persuasions of the preachers, who assembled as soon as they heard of the riot, until the houses of the grey and black friars, with the costly edifice of the Carthusian monks, were laid in ruins. None of the gentlemen or sober part of the Congregation were concerned in this unpremeditated tumult; it was wholly confined to the baser inhabitants, or, as Knox designs them, “the rascal multitude”.
The demolition of the monasteries having been represented as the first fruits of our Reformer’s labors on this occasion, it was necessary to give this minute account of the causes which produced that event, Whatever his sentiments were as to the destruction of the instruments and monuments of idolatry, he wished this to be accomplished in a regular manner; he was sensible that such tumultuary proceedings were prejudicial to the cause of the Reformers in present circumstances; and, instead of instigating, he exerted himself in putting a stop to the ravages of the mob. If it must be traced to a remote cause, we must impute it to the wanton and dishonorable perfidy of the Queen.
In fact, nothing could be more favorable to the designs of the Regent than this riot. By her recent conduct, she had forfeited the confidence of the Protestants, and even exposed herself in the eyes of the sober and moderate of her own party. This occurrence afforded her an opportunity of turning the public indignation from herself, and directing it against the Congregation. She did not fail to improve it with her usual address. Having assembled the nobility, she magnified the accidental tumult into a dangerous and designed rebellion. To the Catholics she dwelt upon the sacrilegious overthrow of those venerable structures which their ancestors had dedicated to the service of God. To the Protestants who had not joined those at Perth, she complained of the destruction of the royal foundation of the charter-house, protested that she had no intention of offering violence to their consciences, and promised her protection, provided they assisted her in punishing those who had been guilty of this violation of public order. Having inflamed the minds of all against them, she advanced to Perth with an army, threatening to lay waste the town with fire and sword, and to inflict the most exemplary vengeance on all who had been instrumental in producing the riot.
The Protestants of the north were not insensible of their danger, and did all in their power to appease the rage of the Queen; they wrote to her, to the commanders of the French troops, to the popish nobles, and to those of their own persuasion: they solemnly disclaimed all rebellious intentions; they protested their readiness to yield all due obedience to the government; they obtested and admonished all to refrain from offering violence to peaceable subjects, who sought only the liberty of their consciences. But finding all their endeavors fruitless, they resolved not to suffer themselves and their brethren to be massacred, and prepared for a defense of the town against an illegal and furious assault. So prompt and vigorous were their measures, that the Regent, when she approached, deemed it imprudent to attack them, and proposed overtures of accommodation, to which they readily acceded.
While the two armies lay before Perth, and negotiations were going on between them, our Reformer obtained an interview with the prior of St.
Andrews and the young Earl of Argyle, who adhered to the Regent; he reminded them of the solemn engagements which they had contracted, and charged them with violating these, by abetting measures which tended to the suppression of the Reformed religion, and the enslaving of their native country. The noblemen assured him that they held their engagements sacred; the Regent had requested them to use their best endeavors to bring the present differences to an amicable termination; if, however, she violated the present treaty, they promised that they would no longer adhere to her, but would openly take part with the rest of the Congregation. The Queen was not long in affording them the opportunity of verifying this promise.
Convinced, by numerous proofs, that the Queen Regent had formed a systematical plan for suppressing the Reformation, the lords of the Congregation renewed their bond of union, and concerted measures for counteracting her designs. For a full account of the interesting struggle that ensued, which was interrupted by treaties artfully proposed and perfidiously violated by the Regent, and at last broke out into an open, though not very bloody, civil war, I must refer to the general histories of the period. The object of the present work does not admit of entering into a detail of this, except in as far as our Reformer was immediately engaged in it, or as may be requisite for illustrating his conduct.
The Protestant leaders had frequently supplicated the Regent, to employ her authority and influence for removing those corruptions in religion, which could no longer be palliated or concealed. They had made the same application to the clergy, but without success. “To abandon usurped power, to renounce lucrative error, are sacrifices which the virtue of individuals has, on some occasions, offered to truth; but from any society of men no such effort can be expected. The corruptions of a society, recommended by common utility, and justified by universal practice, are viewed by its members without shame or horror; and reformation never proceeds from themselves, but is always forced upon them by some foreign hand.” The scandalous lives of the clergy, their total neglect of the religious instruction of the people, and the profanation of Christian worship by gross idolatry, were the most glaring abuses. A great part of the nation loudly demanded their correction; and if regular measures had not been adopted for this purpose, the popular indignation would have effected the work. The lords of the Congregation now resolved to introduce a reformation, in those places to which their authority or influence extended, and where the greater part of the inhabitants were friendly, by abolishing the popish superstition, and setting up the Protestant worship in its room. The feudal ideas respecting the jurisdiction of the nobility, which at that time prevailed in Scotland, in part justified this step: the urgent and extreme necessity of the case forms its best vindication.
Andrews, and the Earl of Argyle, made an appointment with Knox to meet them on a certain day, in that city. Traveling along the east coast of Fife, he preached at Anstruther and Crail, and on the 9th of June came to St.
Andrews. The archbishop, apprised of his design to preach in his cathedral, assembled an armed force, and sent information to him, that if he appeared in the pulpit, he would give orders to the soldiers to fire upon him. The noblemen, having met to consult what ought to be done, were of opinion that Knox should desist from preaching at that time. Their retinue was very slender; they had not yet ascertained the disposition of the town; the Queen lay at a small distance with an army, ready to come to the bishop’s assistance; and his appearance in the pulpit might lead to the sacrifice of his own life, and the lives of those who were determined to defend him from violence.
There are occasions on which it is a proof of superior wisdom to disregard the ordinary dictates of prudence; on which, to face danger is to evite it, to flee from it is to incur it. Had the reformers, after announcing their intentions, suffered themselves to be intimidated by the bravading attitude and threats of the archbishop, their cause would, at the very outset, have received a blow, from which it would not easily have recovered. This was prevented by the firmness and intrepidity of Knox. Fired with the recollection of the part which he had formerly acted on that spot, and with the near prospect of realizing the sanguine hopes which he had cherished in his breast for many years, he replied to the solicitations of his brethren, That he could take God to witness, that he never preached in contempt of any man, nor with the design of hurting an earthly creature; but to delay to preach next day (unless forcibly hindered), he could not in conscience agree. In that town, and in that church, had God first raised him to the dignity of a preacher, and from it he had been reft by French tyranny, at the instigation of the Scots bishops. The length of his imprisonment, and the tortures which he had endured, he would not at present recite; but one thing he could not conceal, that, in the hearing of many yet alive, he had expressed his confident hope of again preaching in St. Andrews. Now, therefore, when Providence, beyond all men’s expectation, had brought him to that place, he besought them not to hinder him. “As for the fear of danger that may come to me,” continued he, “let no man be solicitous; for my life is in the custody of Him whose glory I seek. I desire the hand nor weapon of no man to defend me. I only crave audience; which, if it be denied here unto me at this time, I must seek where I may have it.”
This intrepid reply silenced all further remonstrances; and next day Knox appeared in the pulpit, and preached to a numerous assembly, without meeting with the slightest opposition or interruption. He discoursed on the subject of our Savior’s ejecting the profane traffickers from the temple of Jerusalem; from which he took occasion to expose the enormous corruptions which had been introduced into the Church, under the papacy, and to point out what was incumbent upon Christians, in their different spheres, for removing them. On the three following days he preached in the same place; and such was the influence of his doctrine, that the provost, bailies, and inhabitants, harmoniously agreed to set up the Reformed worship in the town: the church was stripped of images and pictures, and the monasteries pulled down.
The example of St. Andrews was quickly followed in other parts of the kingdom; and, in the course of a few weeks, at Crail, at Cupar, at Lindores, 3 at Stirling, at Linlithgow, and at Edinburgh, the houses of the monks were overthrown, and all the instruments which had been employed to foster idolatry and image worship were destroyed.
Scarcely any thing in the progress of the Scottish Reformation has been more frequently or more loudly condemned than the demolition of those edifices, upon which superstition had lavished all the ornaments of the chisel and pencil. To the Roman Catholics, who anathematized all who were engaged in this work of inexpiable sacrilege, and represented it as involving the overthrow of all religion, have succeeded another race of writers, who, although they do not, in general, make high pretensions to devotion, have not scrupled at times to borrow the language of their predecessors, and have bewailed the wreck of so many precious monuments, in as bitter strains as ever idolater did the loss of his gods.
These are the warm admirers of Gothic architecture, and other relics of ancient art; some of whom, if we may judge from their language, would welcome back the reign of superstition, with all its ignorance and bigotry, if they could recover the objects of their adoration. Writers of this stamp depict the devastation and ravages which marked the progress of the Reformation, in colors as dark as ever were employed by the historian in describing the overthrow of ancient learning, by the irruptions of the barbarous Huns and Vandals. Our Reformer cannot be mentioned by them without symptoms of horror, and in terms of detestation, as a barbarian, a savage, a ringleader of mobs, for overthrowing whatever was venerable in respect of antiquity, or sacred in respect of religion. It is unnecessary to produce instances.
To remind such persons of the divine mandate to destroy all monuments of idolatry in the land of Canaan, would be altogether insufferable, and might provoke, from some of them, a profane attack upon the authority from which it proceeded. To plead the example of the early Christians, in demolishing the temples and statues dedicated to pagan polytheism, would only awaken the keen regrets which are felt for the irreparable loss. It would be still worse to refer to the apocalyptic predictions, which some have been so fanatical as to think were fulfilled in the miserable spoliation of that “Great City”, which, under all her revolutions, has so eminently proved the nurse of the arts, and given encouragement to painters, statuaries, and sculptors, to “harpers, and musicians, and pipers, and trumpeters, and craftsmen of whatsoever craft”; who, to this day, have not forgotten their obligations to her, nor ceased to bewail her destruction. In any apology which I make for the Reformers, I would rather alleviate than aggravate the distress which is felt for the wreck of so many valuable memorials of antiquity. It has been observed by high authority, that there are certain commodities which derive their principal value from their great rarity, and which, if found in great quantities, would cease to be sought after or prized. A nobleman of great literary reputation has, indeed, questioned the justness of this observation, as far as respects precious stones and metals. But I flatter myself, that the noble author and the learned critic, however much they differ as to public wealth, will agree that the observation is perfectly just, as applied to those commodities which constitute the wealth of the antiquary. With him rarity is always an essential requisite. His property, like that of the possessor of the famous Sibylline books, does not decrease in value by the reduction of its quantity, but, after the greater part has been destroyed, becomes still more precious. If the matter be viewed in this light, antiquarians have no reason to complain of the ravages of the Reformers, who have left them such valuable remains, and placed them in that very state which awakens in their minds the most lively sentiments of the sublime and beautiful, by reducing them to... ruins.
But to speak seriously, I would not be thought such an enemy to any of the fine arts, as to rejoice at the wanton destruction of their models, ancient or modern, or to vindicate those who, from ignorance or fanatical rage, may have excited the mob to this work. At the same time, I must reprobate that spirit which disposes persons to magnify irregularities, and dwell with unceasing lamentations upon losses, which, in the view of an enlightened and liberal mind, will sink and disappear, in the magnitude of the incalculable good which rose from the wreck of the revolution. What! do we celebrate, with public rejoicings, victories over the enemies of our country, in the gaining of which, the lives of thousands of our fellow creatures have been sacrificed? and shall solemn masses and sad dirges, accompanied with direful execrations, be everlastingly sung, for the mangled members of statues, torn pictures, and ruined towers? I will go farther, and say, that I look upon the destruction of these monuments as a piece of good policy, which contributed materially to the overthrow of the Roman Catholic religion, and the prevention of its re-establishment. It was chiefly by the magnificence of temples and the splendid apparatus of its worship, that the popish Church fascinated the senses and imaginations of the people. There could not, therefore, be a more successful method of attacking it than the demolition of these. There is more wisdom, than many seem to perceive, in the maxim, which Knox is said to have inculcated, “that the best way to keep the rooks from returning, was to pull down their nests”. In demolishing, or rendering uninhabitable all those buildings which had served for the maintenance of the ancient superstition (except what were requisite for the Protestant worship), the Reformers only acted upon the principles of a prudent general, who razes the castles and fortifications which he is unable to keep, and which might afterwards be seized, and employed against him by the enemy. Had they been allowed to remain, the popish clergy would not have ceased to indulge hopes, and to make efforts to be restored to them; occasions would have been taken to tamper with the credulous, and inflame the minds of the superstitious; and the Reformers might soon have found reason to repent their ill-judged forbearance. When we had quelled The strength of Aztlan, we should have thrown down Her altars, cast her idols to the fire. — The priests combined to save their craft; And soon the rumor ran of evil signs And tokens; in the temple had been heard Wailings and loud lament; the eternal fire Gave dismally a dim and doubtful flame; And from the censer, which at morn should steam Sweet odours to the sun, a foetid cloud, Black and portentous, rose. — Our Reformer continued at St. Andrews till the end of June, when he came to Edinburgh, from which the Regent and her forces had retired. The Protestants in this city fixed their eyes upon him, and chose him immediately for their minister. He accordingly entered upon that charge; but the lords of the Congregation having soon after concluded a treaty with the Regent, by which they delivered up Edinburgh to her, they judged it unsafe for him to remain there, on account of the extreme personal hostility with which the papists were inflamed against him. Willock, as being less obnoxious to them, was therefore substituted in his place, while he undertook a tour of preaching through the kingdom. This itinerancy had great influence in extending the Reformed interest. The wide field which was before him, the interesting situation in which he was placed, the dangers by which he was surrounded, and the hopes which he cherished, increased the ardor of his zeal, and stimulated him to extraordinary exertions both of body and mind. Within less than two months, he traveled over the greater part of Scotland. He visited Kelso, and Jedburgh, and Dumfries, and Ayr, and Stifling, and Perth, and Brechin, and Montrose, and Dundee, and returned again to St. Andrews. The attention of the nation was aroused; their eyes were opened to the errors by which they had been deluded; and they panted for the word of life which they had once tasted. I cannot better describe the emotions which he felt at his success, than by quoting from the familiar letters which he wrote on the occasion, at intervals snatched from his constant employment. “Thus far,” says he, in a letter from St. Andrews, 23rd June, “hath God advanced the glory of His dear Son among us. O that my heart could be thankful for the super-excellent benefit of my God. The long thirst of my wretched heart is satisfied in abundance, that is above my expectation; for now forty days and more hath my God used my tongue, in my native country, to the manifestation of His glory. Whatsoever now shall follow, as touching my own carcase, His holy name be praised. The thirst of the poor people, as well as of the nobility here is wondrous great; which putteth me in comfort, that Christ Jesus shall triumph here in the north and extreme parts of the earth for a space.”
In another letter, dated 2nd September, he says, “Time to me is so precious, that with great difficulty can I steal one hour in eight days, either to satisfy myself, or to gratify my friends. I have been in continual travel since the day of appointment; and, notwithstanding the fevers have vexed me, yet have I traveled through the most part of this realm, where, all praise to His blessed majesty! men of all sorts and conditions embrace the truth. Enemies we have many, by reason of the Frenchmen who lately arrived, of whom our papists hope golden hills. As we be not able to resist, we do nothing but go about Jericho, blowing with trumpets, as God giveth strength, hoping victory by His power alone.”
Immediately after his arrival in Scotland, he wrote to Geneva for his wife and family. On the 13th of June, Mrs. Knox and her mother were at Paris, and applied to Sir Nicolas Throkmorton, the English ambassador, for a safe conduct to pass into England. Throkmorton, who by this time had begun to penetrate the counsels of the French court, not only granted this, but wrote a letter to the Queen, in which he urged the propriety of overlooking the offense which Knox had given by his publication, and of conciliating him by the kind treatment of his wife; seeing he was in great credit with the lords of the Congregation, had been the principal instrument in producing the late change in that kingdom, and was capable of doing essential service to Her Majesty. Accordingly, Mrs. Knox came into England, and being conveyed to the borders, by the directions of the court, reached her husband in safety, on the 20th of September. Her mother, after remaining a short time in her native country, followed her into Scotland, where she remained until her death.
The arrival of his family was the more gratifying to our Reformer, that they were accompanied by Christopher Goodman. He had repeatedly written, in the most pressing manner, for his late colleague to come to his assistance, and expressed much uneasiness at the delay of his arrival.
Goodman became minister of St. Andrews. The settlement of Protestant ministers took place at an earlier period than is mentioned in our common histories. Previous to September 1559, eight towns were provided with pastors; other places remained unprovided, owing to the scarcity of preachers, which was severely felt.
In the mean time, it became daily more apparent that the lords of the Congregation would be unable, without foreign aid, to maintain the struggle in which they were involved. Had the contest been merely between them and the domestic party of the Regent, they would soon have brought it to a successful termination; but they could not withstand the veteran troops which France had sent to her assistance, and was preparing to send, in still more formidable numbers. As far back as the middle of June, our Reformer renewed his exertions for obtaining assistance from England; and persuaded William Kircaldy of Grange, first to write, and afterwards to pay a visit to Sir Henry Percy, who held a public situation on the English marches. Percy immediately transmitted his representations to London, and an answer was returned from Secretary Cecil, encouraging the correspondence.
Knox himself wrote to Cecil, requesting permission to visit England, and enclosed a letter to Queen Elizabeth, in which he attempted to apologize for his rude attack upon female government. There was nothing at which he was more awkward than making apologies. The letter contains professions of strong attachment to Elizabeth’s government; but the strain in which it is written is such as, if it was ever read by that high-minded princess, must have aggravated, instead of extenuating his offense. But the sagacious secretary, I have little doubt, suppressed it. He was himself friendly to the measure of assisting the Scottish Congregation, and exerted all his influence to bring over the Queen and her council to his opinion. A message was, accordingly, sent to Knox, desiring him to meet with Sir Henry Percy at Alnwick, on the 2nd of August, upon business which required the utmost secrecy and dispatch; and Cecil came down to Stamford to hold an interview with him.
The confusion produced by the advance of the Regent’s army upon Edinburgh, retarded his journey; but no sooner was this settled, than he sailed from Pittenweem to Holy Island. Finding that Percy was recalled from the Borders, he applied to Sir James Croft, governor of Berwick.
Croft, who was not unapprised of the design upon which he came, dissuaded him from proceeding farther into England, and undertook to dispatch his communications to London, and to procure a speedy return.
While he remained at Berwick, Whitlaw came from the English court with answers to the letters formerly sent; and he immediately returned to lay these before a meeting of the Protestant lords at Stirling. The irresolution or the caution of Elizabeth’s cabinet had led them to express themselves in such general and unsatisfactory terms, that the assembly were both disappointed and displeased; and it was with some difficulty that our Reformer obtained permission from them to write again to London in his own name. The representation which he gave of the urgency of the case, and the danger of further hesitation or delay, produced a speedy reply, desiring them to send a confidential messenger to Berwick, who would receive a sum of money, to assist them in carrying on the war. About the same time, Sir Ralph Saddler was sent down to Berwick, to act as an accredited, but secret agent; and the correspondence between the court of London and the lords of the Congregation continued afterwards to be carried on through him and Sir James Croft, until the English auxiliary army entered Scotland.
If we reflect upon the connection which the religious and civil liberties of the nation had with the contest in which the Protestants were engaged, and upon our Reformer’s zeal in that cause, we will not be greatly surprised to find him at this time acting in the character of a politician. Extraordinary cases cannot be measured by ordinary rules. In a great emergency, like that under consideration, when all that is valuable and dear to a people is at stake, it becomes the duty of every individual to step forward, and exert the talents with which he is endowed for the public good. Learning was at this time rare among the nobility; and though there were men of distinguished abilities among the Protestant leaders, few of them had been accustomed to transact public business. Accordingly, the management of the correspondence with England was for a time devolved chiefly on Balnaves and our Reformer. But he submitted to this merely from a sense of duty and regard to the common cause; and, when the younger Maitland acceded to their party, he expressed the greatest satisfaction at the prospect which this gave him of being relieved from the burden.
It was not without reason that he longed for this deliverance. He now felt that it was almost as difficult to preserve Christian integrity and simplicity amidst the crooked wiles of political intrigue, as he had formerly found it to pursue truth through the perplexing mazes of scholastic sophistry. In performing a task foreign to his habits and repugnant to his disposition, he met with a good deal of vexation and several unpleasant rubs. These were owing partly to his own impetuosity, partly to the grudge entertained against him by the English court, but chiefly to the line of policy which the latter had prescribed to themselves.
They were convinced of the danger of suffering the Scottish Protestants to be suppressed: but they wished to confine themselves to pecuniary aid, secretly conveyed, by which, they thought, the lords of the Congregation would be enabled to expel the French, and bring the contest to a successful termination, while England would avoid an open breach with France. This plan, which originated in the personal disinclination of Elizabeth to the Scottish war, rather than in the judgment of her wisest counselors, protracted the contest, and produced several jars between the English agents and those of the Congregation. The former were continually urging the associated lords to attack the Regent, before she received fresh succors from France, and blaming their slow operations; they complained of the want of secrecy in their correspondence with England; and even insinuated, that the money, intended for the common cause, was partially applied to private purposes. The latter were offended at this charge, and urged the necessity of military as well as pecuniary aid.
In a letter to Sir James Croft, Knox represented the great importance of their being speedily assisted with troops, without which they would be in much hazard of miscarrying in an attack upon the fortifications of Leith.
The court of England, he said, ought not to hesitate at offending France, of whose hostile intentions against them they had the most satisfactory evidence. But “if ye list to craft with them”, continued he, “the sending of a thousand or more men to us can break no league nor point of peace contracted betwixt you and France: For it is free for your subjects to serve in war any prince or nation for their wages; and if ye fear that such excuses will not prevail, ye may declare them rebels to your realm, when ye shall be assured that they be in our company.” No doubt such things have been often done; and such “political casuistry” (as Keith not improperly styles it) is not unknown at courts. But it must be confessed, that the measure recommended by Knox (the morality of which must stand on the same grounds with the assistance which the English were at that time affording) was too glaring to be concealed by the excuses which he suggested. Croft laid hold of this opportunity to check the impetuosity of his correspondent, and wrote him, that he wondered how he, “being a wise man”, would require from them such aid as they could not give “without breach of treaty, and dishonor”; and that the world was not so blind as not to see through the devices by which he proposed to color the matter.
Knox, in his reply, apologized for his “unreasonable request”; but, at the same time, reminded Croft of the common practice of courts in such matters, and of the French court toward themselves in a recent instance; he was not ignorant, he said, of the inconveniences which might attend an open declaration in their favor, but feared that they would have cause to “repent the drift of time, when the remedy shall not be so easy”.
This is the only instance in which I have found our Reformer recommending any thing like dissimulation, which was very foreign to the openness of his natural temper, and the blunt and rigid honesty which marked all his actions. His own opinion was, that the English court ought from the first to have done what they found themselves obliged at last to do, to declare openly their resolution to support the Congregation. Keith praises Croft’s “just reprimand on Mr. Knox’s double-faced proposition” and Cecil says, that his “audacity was well tamed”. We must not, however, imagine that either of these statesmen had any scruple of conscience or honor on the point. For, on the very day on which Croft answered Knox’s letter, he wrote to Cecil that he thought the Queen ought openly to take part with the Congregation. And in the same letter in which Cecil speaks of Knox’s audacity, he advises Croft to a material adoption of the measure which he had recommended, though in a more plausible shape, by sending five or six officers, who should “steal from thence with appearance of displeasure for lack of entertainment”; and in a subsequent letter, he gives directions to send three or four fit for being captains, who should give out that they left Berwick, “as men desirous to be exercised in the wars, rather than to lie idly in that town”.
Notwithstanding the prejudice which existed in the English court against our Reformer, on account of his “audacity” in attacking female prerogative, they were too well acquainted with his integrity and influence to decline his services. Cecil kept up a correspondence with him; and in the directions sent from London for the management of the subsidy, it was expressly provided, that he should be one of the council for examining the receipts and payments, to see that it was applied to the common action, and not to any private use.
In the mean time, his zeal and activity in the cause of the Congregation, exposed him to the deadly resentment of the Queen Regent and the papists. A reward was publicly offered to the person who should seize or kill him, and numbers, actuated by hatred or avarice, lay in wait for his apprehension. But he was not deterred by this from appearing in public, nor from traveling through the country, in the discharge of his duty. His exertions at this period were incredibly great. By day he was employed in preaching, by night in writing letters on public business. He was the soul of the Congregation; was always present at the post of danger; and by his presence, his public discourses, and private advises, animated the whole body, and defeated the schemes employed to corrupt and disunite them.
Our Reformer was now called to take a share in a very delicate and important measure. When they first had recourse to arms in their own defense, the lords of the Congregation had no intention of making any alteration in the government, nor of assuming the exercise of the supreme authority. Even after they had adopted a more regular and permanent system of resistance to the measures of the Regent, they continued to recognize the station which she held, presented petitions to her, and listened respectfully to the proposals which she made, for removing the grounds of variance. But finding that she was fully bent upon the execution of her plan for subverting the national liberties, and that the title which she held gave her great advantages in carrying on this design, they began to deliberate upon the propriety of adopting a different line of conduct. Their sovereigns were minors, in a foreign country, and under the management of persons who had been the principal instruments in producing all the evils of which they complained. The Queen Dowager held the regency by the authority of Parliament; and might she not be deprived of it by the same authority? In the present state of the country, it was impossible for a free and regular Parliament to meet; but the greater and better part of the nation had declared their dissatisfaction with her administration; and was it not competent for them to provide for the public safety, which was exposed to such imminent danger? These were questions which formed the topic of frequent conversation at this time.
After much deliberation on this important point, a numerous assembly of nobles, barons, and representatives of boroughs met at Edinburgh on the 21st of October, to bring it to a solemn issue. To this assembly Knox and Willock were called; and the question being stated to them, they were required to deliver their opinions as to the lawfulness of the measure.
Willock, who officiated as minister of Edinburgh, being first asked, declared it to be his judgment, founded upon reason and Scripture, that the power of rulers was limited; that they might be deprived of it upon valid grounds; and that the Queen Regent having, by the fortification of Leith, and the introduction of foreign troops, evinced a fixed determination to oppress and enslave the kingdom, might justly be deprived of her authority, by the nobles and barons the native counselors of the realm, whose petitions and remonstrances she had repeatedly rejected. Knox assented to the opinion delivered by his brother, and added, that the assembly might, with safe consciences, act upon it, provided they attended to the three following things: first, that they did not suffer the misconduct of the Queen Regent to alienate their affections from due allegiance to their sovereigns, Francis and Mary; second, that they were not actuated in the measure by private hatred or envy of the Queen Dowager, but by regard to the safety of the commonwealth; and, third, that any sentence which they might pronounce at this time should not preclude her re-admission to the office, if she afterwards discovered sorrow for her conduct, and a disposition to submit to the advice of the counselors of the realm. After this, the whole assembly, having severally delivered their opinions, did, by a solemn deed, suspend the Queen Dowager from her authority as regent of the kingdom, until the meeting of a free parliament; and, in the interval, elected a council for the management of public affairs.
The preachers have been blamed for interposing their advice on this question, as incompetent to persons of their character, and exposing them to unnecessary odium. But it is not easy to see how they could have been excused in refusing to deliver their opinion, when required by those who had submitted to their ministry, upon a measure which involved a case of conscience, as well as a question of law and political right. The advice which was actually given and followed is a matter of greater consequence than the quarter from which it came. As this proceeded upon principles very different from those which produced resistance to princes, and the limitation of their authority, under feudal governments, and as our Reformer has been the object of much animadversion for inculcating these principles, the reader will pardon another digression from the narrative.
Among the various causes which affected the general state of society and government in Europe, during the Middle Ages, we are particularly led to notice the influence of religion. Debased by ignorance and fettered by superstition, the minds of men were prepared to acquiesce without examination in the claims of authority, and to submit tamely to every yoke. The genius of popery is in every view friendly to slavery. The Romish court, while it aimed directly at the establishment of a spiritual despotism in the hands of the ecclesiastics, contributed to rivet the chains of political servitude upon the people. In return for the support which princes yielded to its arrogant claims, it was content to invest them with an absolute authority over the bodies of their subjects. By the priestly unction performed at the coronation of kings, in the name of the Holy See, a sacred character was understood to be communicated, which raised them to a superiority over their nobility which they did not formerly possess, rendered their persons inviolable, and their office divine. Although the sovereign pontiffs claimed, and, on different occasions, exercised the power of dethroning kings, and absolving subjects from their allegiance, yet any attempt of this kind, when it proceeded from the people themselves, was denounced as a crime deserving the severest punishment in this world, and damnation in the next. Hence sprung the divine right of kings to rule independently of their people, and of passive obedience and non-resistance to their will; under the sanction of which they were encouraged to sport with the lives and happiness of their subjects, and to indulge in the most tyrannical and wanton acts of oppression, without the dread of resistance, or of being called to an account. Even in countries where the people were understood to enjoy certain political privileges, transmitted from remote ages, or wrested from their princes on some favorable occasions (as in England), these principles were generally prevalent; and it was easy for an ambitious and powerful monarch to avail himself of them, to violate the rights of the people with impunity, and upon a constitution, the forms of which were friendly to popular liberty, to establish an administration completely despotic and arbitrary.
The contest between papal sovereignty and the authority of general councils, which was carried on during the fifteenth century, struck out some of the radical principles of liberty, which were afterwards applied to political government. The revival of learning, by unfolding the principles of legislation and modes of government in the republics of ancient Greece and Rome, gradually led to more liberal notions on this subject. But these were confined to a few, and had no influence upon the general state of society. The spirit infused by philosophy and literature is too feeble and contracted to produce a radical reform of established abuses; and learned men, satisfied with their own superior illumination, and the liberty of indulging their speculations, have generally been too indifferent or too timid to attempt the improvement of the multitude. It is to the religious spirit excited during the sixteenth century, which spread rapidly through Europe, and diffused itself among all classes of men, that we are chiefly indebted for the propagation of the genuine principles of rational liberty, and the consequent amelioration of government.
Civil and ecclesiastical tyranny were so closely combined, that it was impossible for men to emancipate themselves from the latter without throwing off the former; and from arguments which established their religious rights, the transition was easy, and almost unavoidable, to disquisitions about their civil privileges. In those kingdoms in which the rulers threw off the Romish yoke, and introduced the Reformation by their authority, the influence was more imperceptible and slow; and in some of them, as in England, the power taken from the ecclesiastical was thrown into the regal scale, which proved in so far prejudicial to popular liberty.
But where the Reformation was embraced by the body of a nation, while the ruling powers continued to oppose it, the effect was visible and immediate. The interested and obstinate support which rulers gave to the old system of error and ecclesiastical tyranny, and their cruel persecution of all who favored the new opinions, drove their subjects to inquire into the just limits of authority and obedience. Their judgments once informed as to the rights to which they were entitled, and their consciences satisfied respecting the means which they might employ to acquire them, the immense importance of the immediate object in view, their emancipation from religious bondage, and the salvation of themselves and their posterity, impelled them to make the attempt with an enthusiasm and perseverance which the mere love of civil liberty could not have inspired.
In effecting that memorable revolution which terminated in favor of religious and political liberty in so many nations of Europe, the public teachers of the Protestant doctrine had a principal influence. By their instructions and exhortations, they roused the people to consider their rights and exert their power; they stimulated timid and wary politicians; they encouraged and animated princes, nobles, and confederated states, with their armies, against the formidable opposition, and under the most overwhelming difficulties, until their exertions were crowned with the most signal success. These facts are now admitted, and this honor at last, through the force of truth, conceded to the religious leaders of the Protestant Reformation, by philosophical writers, who had too long branded them as ignorant and fanatical.
Our national Reformer had caught a large portion of the spirit of civil liberty. We have already adverted to the circumstance in his education which directed his attention, at an early period, to some of its principles.
His subsequent studies introduced him to acquaintance with the maxims and modes of government in the free states of antiquity; and it is reasonable to suppose that his intercourse with the republics of Switzerland and Geneva had some influence on his political creed. Having formed his sentiments independent of the prejudices arising from established laws, long usage, and commonly received opinions, his zeal and intrepidity prompted him to avow and propagate them, when others, less sanguine and resolute, would have been restrained by fear, or despair of success. Extensive observation had convinced him of the glaring perversion of government in the most of the European kingdoms. But his principles led him to desire their reform, not their subversion. His admiration of the policy of republics, ancient or modern, was not so great or indiscriminate as to prevent him from separating the essential principles of equity and freedom which they contained, from others which were incompatible with monarchy. He was perfectly sensible of the necessity of regular government to the maintenance of justice and order among mankind, and aware of the danger of setting men loose from its salutary restraints. He uniformly inculcated a conscientious obedience to the lawful commands of rulers, and respect to their persons as well as to their authority, even when they were chargeable with various mismanagements; as long as they did not break through all the restraints of law and justice, and cease to perform the essential duties of their office.
But, he held that rulers, supreme as well as subordinate, were invested with authority for the public good; that obedience was not due to them in any thing contrary to the divine law; that, in every free and well constituted government, the law of the land was superior to the will of the prince, and that inferior magistrates and subjects might restrain the supreme magistrate from particular illegal acts, without throwing off their allegiance, or being guilty of rebellion; that no class of men have an original, inherent, and indefeasible right to rule over a people independently of their will and consent; that a nation have a right to provide and require that they be ruled by laws, agreeing with the divine, and calculated to promote their welfare; that there is a mutual compact, tacit and implied, if not formal and explicit, between rulers and their subjects; and if the former shall flagrantly violate this, employ that power for the destruction of a commonwealth, which was committed to them for its preservation and benefit; in one word, if they shall become habitual tyrants and notorious oppressors, that the people are absolved from allegiance, have a right to resist them, formally to depose them from their place, and to elect others in their room.
The real power of the Scottish kings was, indeed, always limited, and there are in our history, previous to the era of the Reformation, many instances of resistance to their authority. But, though these were pleaded as precedents on this occasion, it must be confessed that we cannot trace them to the principles of genuine liberty. They were the effect, either of sudden resentment on account of some flagrant act of maladministration, of the ambition of some powerful baron, or of the jealousy with which the feudal aristocracy watched over the prerogatives of their order. The people who followed the standards of their chiefs had little interest in the struggle, and derived no benefit from the limitations which were imposed upon their sovereign. But, at this time, more just and enlarged sentiments were diffused through the nation, and the idea of a commonwealth, including the mass of the people as well as the privileged orders, began to be entertained. Our Reformer, whose notions of hereditary right, whether in kings or nobles, were not exalted, studied to repress the insolence and oppression of the nobles; he reminded them of the original equality of men, and the ends for which some were raised above others; and he taught the people that they had rights to preserve, as well as duties to perform.
Such, in substance, were the political sentiments of our Reformer. With respect to female government, he never moved any question among his countrymen, nor attempted to gain proselytes to his opinion. But the principles just stated were strenuously inculcated by him, and acted upon in Scotland in more than one instance during his life. That they should, at that period, have exposed those who held them to the charge of treason from despotical rulers and their numerous satellites; that they should have been regarded with a suspicious eye by some of the learned, who had not altogether thrown off common prejudices, in an age when the principles of political liberty were only beginning to be understood — is not much to be wondered at. But it must excite both surprise and indignation, to find writers, in the present enlightened age, and under the sunshine of British liberty (if our sun is not fast going down), expressing their abhorrence of these sentiments, and exhausting upon their authors all the invective and virulence of the former “Anti-monarcho-machi”, and advocates of passive obedience. They are — essentially — the principles upon which the free constitution of Britain rests; the most obnoxious of them was reduced to practice at the memorable era of the Revolution, when the necessity of employing them was not more urgent or unquestionable, than it was at the suspension of the Queen Regent of Scotland, and the subsequent sequestration of her daughter.
I have said essentially; for I would not be understood as meaning, that every proposition advanced by Knox, on this subject, is expressed in the most guarded and unexceptionable manner, or that all the cases, in which he was led to vindicate forcible resistance to rulers, were such as rendered it necessary, and may be pleaded as precedents in modern times. The political doctrines maintained at that time received a tincture from the spirit of the age, and were accommodated to a rude and unsettled state of society and government. The checks which have since been introduced into the constitution, and the influence which public opinion, expressed by the organ of a free press, has upon the conduct of rulers, are sufficient, in ordinary cases, to restrain dangerous encroachments, or afford the means of correcting them in a peaceable way; and have thus happily superseded the necessity of having recourse to those desperate but decisive remedies which were formerly applied by an oppressed and indignant people. But if ever the time come when these principles shall be generally renounced and abjured, the extinction of the boasted liberty of Britain will not be far off.
Those who judge of the propriety of any measure from the success with which it is accompanied, will be disposed to condemn the suspension of the Queen Regent. Soon after this step was taken, the affairs of the Congregation began to wear a gloomy appearance. The messenger whom they had sent to Berwick to receive a remittance from the English court, was intercepted on his return, and rifled of the treasure; their soldiers mutinied for want of pay; they were repulsed in a premature assault upon the fortifications of Leith, and worsted in a skirmish with the French troops; the secret emissaries of the Regent were too successful among them; their numbers daily decreased; and the remainder disunited, dispirited, and dismayed, came to the resolution of abandoning Edinburgh on the evening of the 5th of November, and retreated with precipitation and disgrace to Stirling.
Amidst the universal dejection produced by these disasters, the spirit of Knox remained unsubdued. On the day after their arrival at Stirling, he mounted the pulpit, and delivered a discourse, which had a wonderful effect in rekindling the zeal and courage of the Congregation. Their faces, he said, were confounded, their enemies triumphed, their hearts had quaked for fear, and still remained oppressed with sorrow and shame.
What was the cause for which God had thus dejected them? The situation of their affairs required plain language, and he would use it. In the present distressed state of their minds, they were in danger of fixing upon an erroneous cause of their misfortunes, and of imagining that they had offended in taking the sword of self-defense into their hands; just as the tribes of Israel did when twice discomfited in the war which they undertook, by divine direction, against their brethren the Benjamites.
Having divided the Congregation into two classes, those who had been embarked in this cause from the beginning, and those who had lately acceded to it, he proceeded to point out what he considered as blameable in the conduct of each; and after exhorting all to amendment of life, prayers, and works of charity, he concluded with an animating address.
God, he said, often suffered the wicked to triumph for a while, and exposed His chosen congregation to mockery, dangers, and apparent destruction, in order to abase their self-confidence, and induce them to look to Him for deliverance and victory. If they turned unfeignedly to the Eternal, he no more doubted that their present distress would be converted into joy, and followed by success, than he doubted that Israel was finally victorious over the Benjamites, after being twice repulsed with ignominy.
The cause in which they were engaged would, in spite of all opposition, prevail in Scotland. It was the eternal truth of the eternal God which they maintained; it might be oppressed for a time, but would ultimately triumph.
The audience, who had entered the church in deep despondency, left it with renovated courage. In the afternoon the council met, and after prayer by the Reformer, unanimously agreed to dispatch Maitland to London to supplicate more effectual assistance from Elizabeth. In the meantime, as they were unable to keep the field, they resolved to divide, and that the one half of the council should remain at Glasgow, and the other at St.
Andrews. Knox was appointed to attend the latter. The French having, in the beginning of the year 1560, penetrated into Fife, he encouraged that small band, which, under the Earl of Arran, and the prior of St. Andrews, bravely resisted their progress, until the appearance of the English fleet obliged them to make a precipitate retreat.
The disaster which caused the Protestant army to leave Edinburgh, turned out to the advantage of their cause. It obliged the English court to abandon the line of cautious policy which they had hitherto pursued. On the 27th of February 1560, they concluded a formal treaty with the lords of the Congregation; and, in the beginning of April, the English army entered Scotland. The French troops retired within the fortifications of Leith, and were invested by sea and land; the Queen Regent died in the castle of Edinburgh during the siege; and the ambassadors of France were forced to agree to a treaty, by which it was provided, that the French troops should be removed from Scotland, an amnesty granted to all who had been engaged in the late resistance to the measures of the Regent, their principal grievances redressed, and a free Parliament called to settle the other affairs of the kingdom.
During the continuance of the civil war, while the Protestant preachers were assiduous in disseminating the knowledge of the truth through all parts of the kingdom, the popish clergy used no exertions to counteract them. Too corrupt to think of reforming their manners, too illiterate to be capable of defending their errors, they placed their forlorn hope upon the success of the French arms, and looked forward to the issue of the contest, as involving the establishment or the ruin of their religion. One attempt they, indeed, made to recover their lost reputation, and support their sinking cause, by reviving the stale pretense of miracles wrought at the shrines of their saints. But the detection of the imposture exposed them to derision, and was the occasion of their losing a person, who, by his learning and integrity, was the greatest ornament of their party.
The treaty, which put an end to hostilities, made no settlement respecting religious differences; but, on that very account, it was fatal to popery. The power was left in the hands of the Protestants. The Roman Catholic worship was almost universally deserted through the kingdom, except in those places which had been occupied by the Regent and her foreign auxiliaries; and no provision was made for its restoration. The firm hold which it once had of the opinions and affections of the people was completely loosened; it was supported by force alone; and the moment that the French troops embarked, that fabric, which had stood for ages in Scotland, fell to the ground. Its feeble and dismayed priests ceased, of their own accord, from the celebration of its rites; and the Reformed service was peaceably set up, wherever ministers could be found to perform it. The Parliament, when it met, had little else to do respecting religion, than to sanction what the nation had previously adopted.
Thus did the Reformed religion advance in Scotland from small beginnings, and amidst great opposition, until it attained a legal establishment. Besides the secret benediction which accompanied the labors of the preachers and confessors of the truth, the serious and inquisitive reader will trace the hand of Providence, in that concatenation of events which contributed to its rise, preservation, and increase; in the over-ruling of the caprice, the ambition, the avarice, and the interested policy of princes and cabinets, many of whom had nothing less in view than to favor that cause, which they were so instrumental in promoting.
The breach of Henry VIII. of England with the Romish See, awakened the attention of the inhabitants of the northern part of the island to a controversy, which had hitherto been carried on at too great a distance to interest them, and led not a few to desire a reformation more improved than the model which he had held out to them. The premature death of James V. of Scotland was favorable to these views; and during the short period in which they received the countenance of civil authority, at the commencement of Arran’s regency, the seeds of the Reformed doctrine were so widely spread, and had taken such deep root, as to be able to resist the violent measures which the Regent, after his recantation, employed to extirpate them. Those who were driven from the country by persecution found an asylum in England, under the decidedly Protestant government of Edward VI. After his death, the alliance of England with Spain, and of Scotland with France, the two great contending powers on the Continent, prevented any concert between the two courts which might have proved fatal to the Protestant religion in Britain. While the cruelties of the English queen drove preachers into Scotland, the political schemes of the Queen Regent induced her to favor the Protestants, and connive at the propagation of their opinions. At the critical moment when she had accomplished her favorite designs, and was preparing to crush the Reformation, Elizabeth ascended the throne of England, who, from motives of policy no less than religion, was inclined to support the Scottish Reformers. The princes of Lorraine, who, by the accession of Francis II., had obtained the sole direction of the French court, were resolutely bent on their suppression, and being at peace with Spain, seemed to have it in their power to turn the whole force of the empire against them; but at this very time, those intestine dissensions, which continued so long to desolate France, broke out, and forced them to accede to that treaty, which put an end to the French influence, and Roman Catholic religion in Scotland.