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FROM HIS SETTLEMENT AS MINISTER OF EDINBURGH, AT THE ESTABLISHMENT OF THE REFORMATION, TO HIS ACQUITTAL, FROM A CHARGE OF TREASON, BY THE PRIVY COUNCIL In the assignation of ministers to the different parts of the kingdom, a measure which engaged the attention of the Protestants immediately after the proclamation of peace, the temporary arrangements formerly made were in general confirmed; and our Reformer resumed his station as minister of Edinburgh. During the month of August, he was employed in composing the Protestant Confession of Faith, which was presented to the Parliament, who ratified it, and abolished the papal jurisdiction and worship.
The organization of the Reformed Church was not yet completed.
Hitherto the “Book of Common Order”, agreed upon by the English Church at Geneva, had been chiefly followed as a directory for worship and government. But this having been compiled for the use of a single congregation, composed, too, for the most part, of men of education, was found inadequate for an extensive Church, consisting of a multitude of confederated congregations. Sensible of the great importance of ecclesiastical polity, for the maintenance of order, the preservation of purity of doctrine and morals, and the general flourishing of religion in the kingdom, our Reformer, at an early period, called the attention of the Protestants to this subject, and urged its speedy settlement. In consequence of this, the lords of the Privy Council appointed him, and other five ministers, to draw out such a plan as they judged most agreeable to Scripture, and conducive to the advancement of religion. They met accordingly, and with great pains, and much unanimity, formed the book, which was afterwards called the “First Book of Discipline”.
As our Reformer had a chief hand in the compilation of this book, and the subject is interesting, it may not be altogether foreign to the object of the present work, to give a slight sketch of the form and order of the Church of Scotland, at the first establishment of the Reformation.
The ordinary and permanent office-bearers of the Church were of four kinds: the minister or pastor, to whom the preaching of the gospel and administration of the sacraments belonged; the doctor or teacher, whose province it was to interpret Scripture, and confute errors (including those who taught theology in schools and universities); the ruling elder, who assisted the minister in exercising ecclesiastical discipline and government; and the deacon, who had the special oversight of the revenues of the Church and the poor. But besides these, it was found necessary, at that time, to employ some persons in extraordinary and temporary charges. As there were not a sufficient number of ministers to supply the different parts of the country, that the people might not be altogether destitute of public worship and instruction, serious persons were appointed to read the Scriptures and the common prayers. These were called readers. If they advanced in knowledge, they were encouraged to add a few plain exhortations to the reading of the Scriptures. In this case they were called exhorters; but they were examined and admitted, before entering upon this employment.
The same cause gave rise to another temporary expedient. Instead of fixing all the ministers in particular charges, it was judged proper, after supplying the principal towns, to assign to the rest the superintendence of a large district, over which they were appointed regularly to itinerate, for the purpose of preaching, planting Churches, and inspecting the conduct of ministers, exhorters, and readers. These were called superintendents.
The number originally proposed was ten; but owing to the scarcity of proper persons, or rather the want of necessary funds, there were never more than six appointed. The deficiency was supplied by commissioners or visitors, appointed from time to time by the General Assembly.
The mode of admission to all these offices was by the free election of the people, examination of the candidate, and public admission, accompanied with prayer and exhortation. The affairs of each congregation were managed by the minister, elders, and deacons, who constituted the session, which met once a week, or oftener. There was a meeting called the weekly exercise, or prophesying, held in every considerable town, consisting of the ministers, exhorters, and learned men in the vicinity, for expounding the Scriptures. This was afterwards converted into the presbytery, or classical assembly. The superintendent met with the ministers and delegated elders of his district, twice a year, in the provincial synod, which took cognizance of ecclesiastical affairs within its bounds. And the General Assembly, which was composed of ministers and elders commissioned from the different parts of the kingdom, met twice, sometimes thrice in the year, and attended to the interests of the whole national Church. Public worship was conducted according to the “Book of Common Order” with a few variations.
The compilers of the “First Book of Discipline” paid particular attention to the state of education. They required that a school should be erected in every parish, for the instruction of youth in the principles of religion, grammar, and the Latin tongue. They proposed that a college should be erected in every “notable town”, in which logic and rhetoric should be taught along with the learned languages. They seem to have had it in their eye to revive the system adopted in some of the ancient republics, in which the youth were considered as the property of the public rather than of their parents, by obliging the nobility and gentry to educate their children, and providing, at the public expense, for the education of the children of the poor who discovered talents for learning. Their regulations for the three national universities discover an enlightened regard to the interests of literature, and may suggest hints which deserve attention in the present age. If they were not carried into effect, the blame cannot be imputed to the Reformed ministers, but to those persons who, through avarice, defeated the execution of their plans. But even as matters stood, and notwithstanding the confusions in which the country was involved, learning continued to make great progress in Scotland, from this period to the close of the century.
We are ready to form very false and exaggerated notions of the rudeness of our ancestors. Perhaps some of our literati, who entertain such a diminutive idea of the taste and learning of those times, might be surprised, if they could be set down at the table of one of our Scottish Reformers surrounded with a circle of his children and pupils, where the conversation was all carried on in French, and the chapter of the Bible, at family worship, was read by the boys in Hebrew, Greek, Latin, and French.
Perhaps they might have blushed, if the book had been put into their hands, and they had been required to perform a part of the exercises. It is certain, however, that this was the common practice in the house of Mr.
John Row, minister of Perth, with whom many of the nobility and gentry boarded their children, for their instruction in the Greek and Hebrew languages, the knowledge of which he contributed to spread through the kingdom. Nor was the improvement of our native tongue neglected at this time.
Judicious as its plan was, and well adapted to promote the interests of religion and learning in the nation, the “Book of Discipline”, when presented to the Privy Council, was coldly received, and its formal ratification evaded. This did not arise from any difference of sentiment between them and the ministers respecting ecclesiastical government, but partly from aversion to the strict discipline which it appointed to be exercised against vice, and partly from reluctance to comply with its requisition for the appropriation of the revenues of the popish Church to the support of the new religious and literary establishments. However, it was subscribed by the greater part of the members of the Council; and as the grounds of prejudice against it were well known, it was submitted unto by the nation, and carried into effect in all its principal ecclesiastical regulations.
The first General Assembly of the Reformed Church of Scotland sat down at Edinburgh on the 20th of December 1560. It consisted of forty members, only six of whom were ministers. Knox was one of these; and he continued to sit in most of its meetings until the time of his death. Their deliberations were conducted at first with great simplicity and unanimity.
It is a singular circumstance, that they had seven different meetings without a president or moderator. But as the number of members increased, and business became more complicated, a moderator was appointed to be chosen at every meeting; he was invested with authority to maintain order; and regulations were enacted concerning the constituent members of the court, the causes which ought to come before them, and the order of procedure.
In the close of this year our Reformer suffered a heavy domestic loss, by the death of his valuable wife, who, after sharing in the hardships of her husband’s exile was removed from him when he had obtained a comfortable settlement for his family. He was left with the charge of two young children, in addition to his other cares. His mother-in-law was still with him; but though he took pleasure in her religious company, the dejection of mind to which she was subject, and which all his efforts could never completely cure, rather increased than lightened his burden. His acute feelings were severely wounded by this stroke; but he endeavored to moderate his grief by the consolations which he administered to others, and by application to public duties. He had the satisfaction of receiving, on this occasion, a letter from his much respected friend Calvin, in which expressions of great esteem for his deceased partner were mingled with condolence for his loss. I may take this opportunity of mentioning, that Knox, with the consent of his brethren, consulted the Genevan Reformer upon several difficult questions which occurred respecting the settlement of the Scottish Reformation, and that a number of letters passed between them on this subject.
Anxieties on a public account were felt by Knox along with his domestic distress. The Reformation had hitherto advanced with a success equal to his most sanguine expectations; and, at this time, no opposition was publicly made to the new establishment. But matters were still in a very critical state. There was a party in the nation, by no means inconsiderable in numbers and power, who remained addicted to popery; and, though they had given way to the torrent, they anxiously waited for an opportunity to embroil the country in another civil war, for the restoration of the ancient religion. Queen Mary, and her husband the King of France, had refused to ratify the late treaty, and had dismissed the deputy, sent by the Parliament, with marks of the highest displeasure at the innovations which they had presumed to introduce. A new army was preparing in France for the invasion of Scotland against the spring; emissaries were sent, in the mean time, to encourage and unite the Roman Catholics; and it was doubtful if the Queen of England would subject herself to new expense and odium, by protecting them against a second attack.
The danger was not unperceived by our Reformer, who exerted himself to prepare his countrymen, by impressing their minds with a due sense of it, and exciting them speedily to complete the settlement of religion throughout the kingdom, which, he was persuaded, would prove the principal bulwark against the assaults of their adversaries. In the state in which the minds of men then were, his admonitions were listened to by many who had formerly treated them with indifference. The threatened storm blew over, in consequence of the death of the French king; but this necessarily led to a measure which involved the Scottish Protestants in a new struggle, and exposed the Reformed Church to dangers less obvious and striking, but, on that account, not less to be dreaded than open violence and hostility. This was the invitation given by the Protestant nobility to their young queen, who, on the 19th of August 1561, arrived in Scotland, and assumed the reins of government into her own hands.
The education which Mary had received in France, whatever embellishments it added to her beauty, was the very worst which can be conceived, for fitting her to rule her native country in the present juncture.
Of a temper naturally violent, the devotion which she had been accustomed to see paid to her personal charms rendered her incapable of bearing contradiction. Habituated to the splendor and gallantry of the most luxurious and dissolute court of Europe, she could not submit to those restraints which the severe manners of her subjects imposed; and while the freedom of her behavior gave offense to them, she could not conceal the antipathy and disgust which she felt at theirs. Full of high notions of royal prerogative, she regarded the late proceedings of Scotland as a course of rebellion against her authority. Every means was employed, before she left France, to strengthen the blind attachment to the Roman Catholic religion in which she had been nursed from her infancy, and to inspire her with aversion to the religion which had been embraced by her subjects. She was taught that it would be the great glory of her reign to reduce her kingdom to the obedience of the Romish See, and co-operate with the popish princes on the Continent in extirpating heresy. If she forsook the religion in which she had been educated, she would forfeit their powerful friendship; if she persevered in it, she might depend upon their assistance to enable her to chastise her rebellious subjects, and prosecute her claims to the English crown against a heretical usurper.
With these fixed prepossessions, Mary came into Scotland, and she adhered to them with singular pertinacity to the end of her life. To examine the subjects of controversy between the papists and Protestants, with the view of ascertaining on what side the truth lay; to hear the preachers, or admit them to state the grounds of their faith, even in the presence of the clergy whom she had brought along with her; to do any thing which might lead to a doubt in her mind respecting the religion in which she had been brought up, she had formed an unalterable determination to avoid. As the Protestants were at present in possession of the power, it was necessary for her to temporize; but she resolved to withhold her ratification of the late proceedings, and to embrace the first favorable opportunity to overturn them, and re-establish the ancient system.
The reception which she met with on her first arrival in Scotland was flattering; but an occurrence which took place soon after damped the joy which had been expressed, and prognosticated future jealousies and confusion. Resolved to give her subjects an early proof of her firm determination to adhere to the Roman Catholic worship, Mary directed preparations to be made for the celebration of a solemn mass in the chapel of Holyrood House, on the first Sabbath after her arrival. So great was the horror with which the Protestants viewed this service, and the alarm which they felt at finding it countenanced by their queen, that the first rumor of the design excited violent murmurs, which would have burst into an open tumult, had not the leaders interfered, and by their authority repressed the zeal of the multitude. Knox, from regard to public tranquillity, and to avoid giving offense to the Queen and her relations, at the present juncture, used his influence in private conversation to allay the fervor of the more zealous, who were ready to prevent the service by force. But he was not less alarmed at the precedent than the rest of his brethren; and having exposed the evil of idolatry in his sermon on the following Sabbath, he said, that “one mass was more fearful unto him, than if ten thousand armed enemies were landed in any part of the realm, of purpose to suppress the holy religion”.
At this day, we are apt to be struck with surprise at the conduct of our ancestors, to treat their fears as visionary, or at least highly exaggerated, and summarily to pronounce them guilty of the same intolerance of which they complained in their adversaries. Persecution for conscience’ sake is so odious, the least approach to it is so dangerous, that we reckon we can never express too great detestation of any measure which involves it. But let us be just as well as liberal. A little reflection upon the circumstances in which our reforming forefathers were placed, may serve to abate our astonishment, and qualify our censures. They were actuated, it is true, by a strong abhorrence of popish idolatry, and unwilling to suffer the land to be again polluted with it. But they were influenced also by a proper regard for their own preservation; and neither were their fears fanciful, nor their precautions unnecessary.
The warmest friends of toleration and liberty of conscience, some of whom will not readily be charged with Protestant prejudices, have agreed, that persecution of the most sanguinary kind was inseparable from the system and spirit of popery which was at that time dominant in Europe; and they cannot deny the inference, that the profession and propagation of it were, on this account, justly subjected to penal restraints, as far, at least, as was requisite to prevent it from obtaining the ascendancy, and reacting the bloody scenes which it had already exhibited. The Protestants of Scotland had these scenes before their eyes, and fresh in their recollection; and criminal indeed would they have been, if, under a false security, and by listening to the siren song of toleration, by which their adversaries, with no less impudence than artifice, now attempted to lull them asleep, they had suffered themselves to be thrown off their guard, and neglected to provide against the most distant approaches of the danger by which they were threatened. Could they be ignorant of the perfidious, barbarous, and unrelenting cruelty with which Protestants were treated in every Roman Catholic kingdom — in France, where so many of their brethren had been put to death, under the influence of the relations of their queen; in the Netherlands, where such multitudes had been tortured, beheaded, hanged, drowned, or buried alive; in England, where the flames of persecution were but lately extinguished, and in Spain, where they continued to blaze?
Could they have forgot what had taken place in their own country, or the perils from which they had themselves narrowly escaped? “God forbid!” exclaimed the lords of the Privy Council, in the presence of Queen Mary, at a time when they were not disposed to offend her; “God forbid! that the lives of the faithful stood in the power of the papists: for just experience has taught us what cruelty is in their hearts.”
Nor was this an event so improbable, as to render the most jealous precautions unnecessary. The rage for conquest, on the Continent, was now converted into a rage for proselytism; and steps had already been taken towards forming that league among the Catholic princes, which had for its object the universal extermination of the Protestants. The Scots queen was passionately addicted to the intoxicating cup of which so many of “the kings of the earth had drunk”. There were numbers in the nation similarly disposed. The liberty taken by the Queen would soon be demanded for all who declared themselves Catholics. Many of those who had hitherto ranged under the Protestant standard were lukewarm in the cause; the zeal of others had already suffered a sensible abatement; and it was to be feared, that the favors of the court, and the blandishments of an artful and engaging princess would make proselytes of some, and lull others into a dangerous security, while designs were carried on pregnant with ruin to the religion and liberties of the nation. It was in this manner that some of the most wise persons in the country reasoned, and, had it not been for the uncommon spirit which at that time existed among the Reformers, there is every reason to think that their predictions would have been verified.
To those who compare the conduct of the Scottish Protestants on this occasion, to the intolerance of Roman Catholics, I would recommend the following statement of a sensible French author, who had formed a more just notion of these transactions than many of our own writers. “Mary,” says he, “was brought up in France accustomed to see Protestants burned to death, and instructed in the maxims of her uncles, the Guises, who maintained that it was necessary to exterminate, without mercy, the pretended Reformed. With these dispositions she arrived in Scotland, which was wholly reformed, with the exception of a few lords. The kingdom receive her, acknowledge her as their queen, and obey her in all things according to the laws of the country. I maintain that, in the state of men’s spirits at that time, if a Huguenot queen had come to take possession of a Roman Catholic kingdom, with the equipage with which Mary came to Scotland, the first thing they would have done would have been to arrest her; and if she had persevered in her religion, they would have procured her degradation by the pope, thrown her into the Inquisition, and burned her as a heretic. There is not an honest man who dare deny this.” After all, it is surely unnecessary to apologize for the restrictions which our ancestors were desirous of imposing on Queen Mary, to those who approve of the present constitution of Britain, which excludes every papist from the throne, and according to which the reigning monarch, by setting up mass in his chapel, would virtually forfeit his crown. Is popery more dangerous now than it was two hundred and fifty years ago?
Besides his fears for the common cause, Knox had grounds for apprehension as to his personal safety. The Queen was peculiarly incensed against him on account of the active hand which he had in the late revolution; the popish clergy who left the kingdom represented him as the ringleader of her factious subjects; and she had signified, before she left France, that she was determined he should be punished. His book against female government was most probably the ostensible charge on which he was to be prosecuted; and accordingly we find him making application through the English resident at Edinburgh, to secure the favor of Elizabeth, reasonably fearing that she might be induced to abet the proceedings against him on this head. But whatever perils he apprehended, from the personal presence of the Queen, either to the public or to himself, he used not the smallest influence to prevent her being invited home. On the contrary, he concurred with his brethren in this measure and in defeating a scheme which the Duke of Chastelherault, under the direction of the archbishop of St. Andrews, had formed to exclude her from the government. But when the prior of St. Andrews was sent to France with the invitation, he urged that her desisting from the celebration of mass should be one of the conditions of her return; and when he found him and the rest of the Council disposed to grant her this liberty within her own chapel, he predicted that “her liberty would be their thraldom”.
Soon after her arrival, Queen Mary, whether of her own accord or by advice is uncertain, sent for Knox to the palace, and held a long conversation with him, in the presence of her brother, the prior of St.
Andrews. She seems to have expected to awe him into submission by her authority, if not to confound him by her arguments. But the bold freedom with which he replied to all her charges, and vindicated his own conduct, convinced her that the one expectation was not more vain than the other; and the impression which she wished to make was left on her own mind.
She accused him of raising her subjects against her mother and herself; of writing a book against her just authority, which, she said, she would cause the most learned men in Europe to answer; of being the cause of sedition and bloodshed when he was in England; and of accomplishing his purposes by magical arts.
To these heavy charges Knox replied, that, if to teach the truth of God in sincerity, to rebuke idolatry, and exhort a people to worship God according to His Word, were to excite subjects to rise against their princes, then he stood convicted of that crime; for it had pleased God to employ him, among others, to disclose unto that realm the vanity of the papistical religion, with the deceit, pride, and tyranny of the Roman antichrist. But if the true knowledge of God and His right worship were the most powerful inducements to subjects cordially to obey their princes (as they certainly were), he was innocent. Her Grace, he was persuaded, had at present as unfeigned obedience from the Protestants of Scotland, as ever her father or any of her ancestors had from those called bishops. With respect to what had been reported to Her Majesty, concerning the fruits of his preaching in England, he was glad that his enemies laid nothing to his charge but what the world knew to be false. If any of them could prove, that in any of the places where he had resided there was either sedition or mutiny, he would confess himself to be a malefactor. So far from this being the case, he was not ashamed to say, that in Berwick, where bloodshed among the soldiers had formerly been common, God so blessed his weak labors, that there was as great quietness during the time he resided in it, as there was at present in Edinburgh. The slander of practicing magic (an art which he had condemned wherever he preached) he could more easily bear, when he recollected that his Master, the Lord Jesus, had been defamed as one in league with Beelzebub. As to the book which seemed so highly to offend Her Majesty, he owned that he wrote it, and was willing that all the learned should judge of it. He understood that an Englishman had written against it, but he had not read him. If he had sufficiently confuted his arguments, and established the contrary propositions, he would confess his error, but to that hour he continued to think himself alone more able to sustain the things affirmed in that work than any ten in Europe were to confute them. “You think I have no just authority?” said the Queen. “Please Your Majesty,” replied he, “learned men in all ages have had their judgments free, and most commonly disagreeing from the common judgment of the world; such also have they published both with pen and tongue; notwithstanding, they themselves have lived in the common society with others, and have borne patiently with the errors and imperfections which they could not amend. Plato the philosopher wrote his book “Of the Commonwealth”, in which he condemned many things that then were maintained in the world, and required many things to have been reformed; and yet, notwithstanding, he lived under such policies as then were universally received, without further troubling of any state. Even so, madam, am I content to do, in uprightness of heart, and with a testimony of a good conscience.” He added, that his sentiments on that subject should be confined to his own breast; and that, if she refrained from persecution, her authority would not be hurt, either by him, or his book, “which was written most especially against the wicked Jezebel of England”. “But ye speak of women in general,” said the Queen. “Most true it is, madam; yet it appeareth to me, that wisdom should persuade Your Grace never to raise trouble for that which to this day has not troubled Your Majesty, neither in person nor in authority: for of late years many things, which before were held stable, have been called in doubt; yea, they have been plainly impugned. But yet, madam, I am assured that neither Protestant nor papist shall be able to prove, that any such question was at any time moved either in public or in secret. Now, madam, if I had intended to have troubled your state, because ye are a woman, I would have chosen a time more convenient for that purpose, than I can do now, when your presence is within the realm.”
Changing the subject, she charged him with having taught the people to receive a religion different from that allowed by their princes; and asked, if this was not contrary to the divine command, that subjects should obey their rulers? He replied, that true religion derived not its original or authority from princes, but from the eternal God; that princes were often most ignorant of the true religion; and that subjects were not bound to frame their religion according to the arbitrary will of their rulers, else the Hebrews would have been bound to adopt the religion of Pharaoh, Daniel and his associates that of Nebuchadnezzar and Darius, and the primitive Christians that of the Roman Emperors. “Yea,” replied the Queen, qualifying her assertion; “but none of these men raised the sword against their princes.” “Yet you cannot deny,” said he, “that they resisted; for those who obey not the commandment given them do in some sort resist.” “But they resisted not with the sword,” rejoined the Queen, pressing home the argument. “God, madam, had not given unto them the power and the means.” “Think you,” said the Queen, “that subjects, having the power, may resist their princes?” “If princes exceed their bounds, madam, no doubt they may be resisted, even by power. For no greater honor, or greater obedience, is to be given to kings and princes, than God has commanded to be given to father and mother. But the father may be struck with a frenzy, in which he would slay his children. Now, madam, if the children arise, join together, apprehend the father, take the sword from him, bind his hands, and keep him in prison, till the frenzy be over; think you, madam, that the children do any wrong? Even so, madam, is it with princes that would murder the children of God that are subject unto them.
Their blind zeal is nothing but a mad frenzy; therefore, to take the sword from them, to bind their hands, and to cast them into prison, till they be brought to a more sober mind, is no disobedience against princes, but just obedience, because it agreeth with the will of God.”
The Queen, who had hitherto maintained her courage in reasoning, was completely overpowered by this bold answer: her countenance changed, and she continued in a silent stupor. Her brother spoke to her, and inquired the cause of her uneasiness; but she made no reply. At length, recovering herself, she said, “Well then, I perceive that my subjects shall obey you, and not me, and will do what they please, and not what I command; and so must I be subject to them, and not they to me.” “God forbid!” answered Knox, “that ever I take upon me to command any to obey me, or to set subjects at liberty to do whatever pleases them. But my travail is, that both princes and subjects may obey God. And think not, madam, that wrong is done you, when you are required to be subject unto God; for it is He who subjects people under princes, and causes obedience to be given unto them. He craves of kings, that they be as foster fathers to His Church, and commands queens to be nurses to His people. And this subjection, madam, unto God and His Church, is the greatest dignity that flesh can get upon the face of the earth; for it shall raise them to everlasting glory.” “But you are not the Church that I will nourish,” said the Queen: “I will defend the Church of Rome; for it is, I think, the true Church of God.” “Your will, madam, is no reason; neither doth your thought make the Roman harlot to be the true and immaculate spouse of Jesus Christ.
Wonder not, madam, that I call Rome an harlot, for that Church is altogether polluted with all kinds of spiritual fornication, both in doctrine and manners.” He added, that he was ready to prove that the Romish Church had declined farther from the purity of religion taught by the apostles, than the Jewish Church had degenerated from the ordinances which God gave them by Moses and Aaron, at the time when they denied and crucified the Son of God. “My conscience is not so,” said the Queen. “Conscience, madam, requires knowledge; and I fear that right knowledge you have none.” She said, she had both heard and read. “So, madam, did the Jews who crucified Christ; they read the law and the prophets, and heard them interpreted after their manner. Have you heard any teach but such as the pope and cardinals have allowed? and you may be assured, that such will speak nothing to offend their own estate.” “You interpret the Scriptures in one way,” said the Queen evasively, “and they in another: whom shall I believe, and who shall be judge?” “You shall believe God, who plainly speaketh in His Word,” replied the Reformer, “and farther than the Word teacheth you, you shall believe neither the one nor the other. The Word of God is plain in itself; if there is any obscurity in one place, the Holy Ghost, who is never contrary to Himself, explains it more clearly in other places, so that there can remain no doubt, but unto such as are obstinately ignorant.” As an example, he selected one of the articles in controversy, that concerning the sacrament of the Supper, and proceeded to show that the popish doctrine of the sacrifice of the mass was destitute of all foundation in Scripture. But the Queen, who was determined to avoid all discussion of the articles of her creed, interrupted him, by saying, that she was unable to contend with him in argument, but if she had those present whom she had heard, they would answer him. “Madam,” replied the Reformer fervently, “would to God that the learnedest papist in Europe, and he whom you would best believe, were present with Your Grace to sustain the argument, and that you would wait patiently to hear the matter reasoned to the end! for then, I doubt not, madam, but you would hear the vanity of the papistical religion, and how little ground it hath in the Word of God.” “Well,” said she, “you may perchance get that sooner than you believe.” “Assuredly, if ever I get that in my life, I get it sooner than I believe; for the ignorant papist cannot patiently reason, and the learned and crafty papist will never come, in your audience, madam, to have the ground of their religion searched out.
The hour after dinner afforded an occasion for breaking off this singular conversation. At taking leave of Her Majesty, the Reformer said, “I pray God, madam, that you may be as blessed within the commonwealth of Scotland, as ever Deborah was in the commonwealth of Israel.”
This interview excited great speculation, and different conjectures were formed as to its probable consequences. The Catholics, whose hopes now depended solely on the Queen, were alarmed, lest Knox’s rhetoric should have shaken her constancy. The Protestants cherished the expectation that she would be induced to attend the Protestant sermons, and that her religious prejudices would gradually abate. Knox indulged no such flattering expectations. He had made it his study during the late conference, to discover the real character of the Queen; and he formed, at that time, the opinion, which he never saw reason afterwards to alter, that she was proud, crafty, obstinately wedded to the popish Church, and averse to all means of instruction. He resolved, therefore, vigilantly to watch her proceedings, that he might give timely warning of any danger which might result from them to the Reformed interest; and the more that he perceived the zeal of the Protestant nobles to cool, and their jealousy to be laid asleep, by the winning arts of the Queen, the more frequently and loudly did he sound the alarm. Vehement and harsh as his expressions often were; violent, seditious, and insufferable, as his sermons and prayers have been pronounced, I have little hesitation in saying, that as the public peace was never disturbed by them, so they were useful to the public safety, and even a principal means of warding off those confusions in which the country was involved, and which brought on the ultimate ruin of the infatuated Queen. His uncourtly and rough manner was not, indeed, calculated to gain upon her mind, nor is there reason to think that an opposite manner would have had this effect, and his admonitions often irritated her; but they obliged her to act with greater reserve and moderation; and they operated, to an indescribable degree, in arousing and keeping awake the zeal and the fears of the nation, which, at that period, were the two great safeguards of the Protestant religion in Scotland. We may form an idea of the effect produced by his pulpit orations, from the account of the English ambassador, who was one of his constant hearers. “Where your honor,” says he, in a letter to Cecil, “exhorteth us to stoutness, I assure you the voice of one man is able, in an hour, to put more life in us, than six hundred trumpets continually blustering in our ears.”
The Reformer was not ignorant that some of his friends thought him too severe in his language, nor was he always disposed to vindicate the expressions which he employed. Still, however, he was persuaded, that the times required the utmost plainness; and he was afraid that snares lurked under the smoothness which was recommended and practiced by courtiers.
Cecil, having given him an advice on this head, in one of his letters, we find him replying, “Men delighting to swim betwixt two waters have often complained about my severity. I do fear that that which men term lenience and dulcitude do bring upon themselves and others more fearful destruction, than yet hath ensued the vehemency of any preacher within this realm.”
The abatement of zeal which he dreaded from “the holy water of the court”, soon began to appear among the Protestant leaders. The General Assemblies of the Church were a great eye-sore to the Queen, who was very desirous to have them put down. At the first Assembly after her arrival, the courtiers, through her influence, absented themselves, and, when challenged for this, began to dispute the propriety of such conventions without Her Majesty’s pleasure. On this point, there was sharp reasoning between Knox and Maitland, who was now made secretary of state. “Take from us the liberty of assemblies, and take from us the gospel,” said the Reformer. “If the liberty of the Church must depend upon her allowance or disallowance, we shall want not only assemblies, but also the preaching of the gospel.” He was still more indignant at their management in settling the provision for the ministers of the Church. Hitherto they had lived mostly on the benevolence of their hearers, and many of them had scarcely the means of subsistence; but repeated complaints having obliged the Privy Council to take up the affair, they came at last to a determination, that the ecclesiastical revenues should be divided into three parts; that two of these should be given to the ejected popish clergy; and that the other part should be divided between the court and the Protestant ministry! The persons appointed to modify the stipends were disposed to gratify the Queen, and the sums allotted to the ministers were as ill paid as they were paltry and inadequate. “Well!” exclaimed Knox, when he heard of this disgraceful arrangement, “if the end of this order, pretended to be taken for sustentation of the ministers, be happy, my judgment fails me. I see two parts freely given to the devil, and the third must be divided betwixt God and devil. Who would have thought, that when Joseph ruled in Egypt, his brethren should have travailed for victuals; and have returned with empty sacks unto their families? O happy servants of the devil, and miserable servants of Jesus Christ, if after this life there were not hell and heaven!”
He vented his mind more freely on this subject, as his complaints could not be imputed to personal motives; for his own stipend, though moderate, was liberal when compared with those of the most of his brethren. From the time of his last return to Scotland, until the conclusion of the war, he had been indebted to the liberality of individuals for the support of his family. After that period, he lodged for some time in the house of David Forrest, a burgess of Edinburgh, from which he removed to the lodging which had belonged to Durie, abbot of Dunfermline. As soon as he began to preach statedly in the city, the town council assigned him an annual stipend of two hundred pounds, to be paid quarterly; besides discharging his house rent and re-imbursing some individuals the money which they had expended in maintaining his family. Subsequent to the settlement made by the Privy Council, it would seem that he received his stipend from the common fund allotted to the ministers of the Church; but the good town had still an opportunity of testifying their generosity, by supplying the deficiencies of the legal allowance. Indeed, the uniform attention of the town council to his external accommodation and comfort was honorable to them, and deserves to be recorded to their commendation.
In the beginning of the year 1562, he went to Angus to preside in the election and admission of John Erskine of Dun as superintendent of Angus and Mearns. That respectable baron was one of those whom the first General Assembly declared “apt and able to minister”, and having already contributed in different ways, to the advancement of the Reformation, he now devoted himself to the service of the Church, in a laborious employment, at a time when she stood eminently in need of the assistance of all the learned and pious. Knox had formerly presided at the installation of John Spottiswood, as superintendent of Lothian.
The influence of our Reformer appears from his being employed on different occasions to compose variances of a civil nature, which arose among the Protestants. He was applied to frequently to intercede with the town council in behalf of some of the inhabitants, who had subjected themselves to punishment by their disorderly conduct. In March this year, the Earl of Bothwell urged him to assist in removing a deadly feud which subsisted between him and the Earl of Arran. He was averse to interfere in this business, which had already baffled the authority of the Privy Council; but, at the desire of some friends, he yielded, and, after considerable pains, had the satisfaction of bringing the parties to an amicable interview, at which they mutually promised to bury all differences. But he was exceedingly mortified by the information, which Arran, immediately on the back of this agreement, communicated to him, of a conspiracy which Bothwell had proposed to him; which produced the imprisonment of both, and, notwithstanding the lunacy of the informer, created great jealousies in the minds of the principal courtiers.
In the month of May, Knox had another interview with the Queen, on the following occasion. The family of Guise were at this time making the most vigorous efforts to regain that influence in France which they had been deprived of since the death of Francis II. and, as zeal for the Catholic religion was the cloak by which they covered their ambitious designs, they began by stirring up persecution against the Protestants. The massacre of Vassy, in the beginning of March this year, was a prelude to this, in which the Duke of Guise and Cardinal of Lorraine attacked, with an armed force, a congregation assembled for worship, killed a number of them, and wounded and mutilated others, not excepting women and children.
Intelligence of the success which attended the measures of her uncles was brought to Queen Mary, who immediately after gave a splendid ball to her foreign servants, at which the dancing was prolonged to a late hour.
Knox was advertised of the festivities in the palace, and the occasion of them. He always felt a lively interest in the concerns of the French Protestants, with many of whom he was intimately acquainted, and he entertained a very bad opinion of the princes of Lorraine. In his sermon on the following Sabbath, he introduced some severe strictures upon the vices to which princes were addicted, their oppression, ignorance, hatred of virtue, attachment to bad company, and fondness for foolish pleasures.
Information of this discourse was quickly conveyed to the Queen, with many exaggerations; and the preacher was next day ordered to attend at the palace. Being conveyed into the royal chamber, where the Queen sat with her maids of honor and principal counselors, he was accused of having spoken of Her Majesty irreverently, and in such a manner as to bring her under the contempt and hatred of her subjects.
After the Queen had made a long speech on that theme, he was allowed to state his defense. He told Her Majesty, that she had been treated as persons usually were who refused to attend the preaching of the Word of God: she had been obliged to trust to the false reports of flatterers. For, if she had heard the calumniated discourse, he did not believe she could have been offended with any thing that he had said. She would now, therefore, be pleased to hear him repeat, as exactly as he could, what he had preached yesterday. Having done this, he added, “If any man, madam, will say, that I spake more, let him presently accuse me”. Several of the company attested that he had given a just report of the sermon. The Queen, after turning round to the informers, who were dumb, told him, that his words, though sharp enough as related by himself, were reported to her in a different way. She added, that she knew that her uncles and he were of a different religion, and therefore did not blame him for having no good opinion of them; but if he heard any thing about her conduct which displeased him, he should come to herself, and she would be willing to hear him. Knox easily saw through the artifice of this fair proposal. He replied, that he was willing to do any thing for Her Majesty’s contentment, which was consistent with his office; if Her Grace chose to attend the public sermons, she would hear what pleased or displeased him in her and in others: or if she pleased to appoint a time when she would hear the substance of the doctrine which he preached in public, he would most gladly wait upon Her Grace’s pleasure, time, and place: but to come and wait at her chamber door, and then to have liberty only to whisper in her ear what people thought and said of her, that would neither his conscience nor his office permit him to do. “For,” added he, in a strain which he sometimes used even on serious occasions, “albeit at Your Grace’s commandment, I am here now, yet can I not tell what other men shall judge of me, that, at this time of day, am absent from my book, and waiting upon the court.” “Ye will not always be at your book,” said the Queen pettishly, and turned her back. As he left the room “with a reasonably merry countenance”, some of the popish attendants said in his hearing, “He is not afraid!”. “Why should the pleasing face of a gentle woman frighten me?” said he, regarding them with a sarcastic scowl, “I have looked in the faces of many angry men, and yet have not been afraid above measure.”
The number of inhabitants was indeed small, when compared with its present population; but still they must have formed a very large congregation. The place used for worship in St. Giles’ Church was capacious: on some occasions, three thousand persons assembled in it to hear sermon. In this church, Knox had, since 1560, performed all the parts of ministerial duty, without any other assistant but John Cairns, who acted as reader. He preached twice every Sabbath, and thrice on other days of the week. He met regularly once every week with the session of the parish, for discipline, and with the assembly of the neighborhood, for the exercise on the Scriptures. He attended, besides, the meetings of the provincial synod, and General Assembly; and at almost every meeting of the last mentioned court, he received an appointment to visit and preach in some distant part of the country. These labors must have been oppressive to a constitution which was already impaired; especially as he did not indulge in extemporaneous effusions, but devoted a part of every day to study. His parish were sensible of this; and, in April 1562, the town council came to an unanimous resolution to solicit John Craig, the minister of Canongate, or Holyrood House, to undertake the half of the charge. The ensuing General Assembly approved of the council’s proposal, and appointed Craig to remove to Edinburgh. His translation did not, however, take place before June 1563, owing, as it would seem, to the difficulty of obtaining an additional stipend.
During the autumn of 1562, the Roman Catholics entertained great hopes of a change in their favor. After several unsuccessful attempts to cut off the principal Protestant courtiers, the Earl of Huntly openly took arms in the north, to rescue the Queen from their hands; while the Archbishop of St. Andrews endeavored to unite and rouse the papists of the south. On this occasion, our Reformer acted with his usual zeal and foresight. Being appointed by the General Assembly as commissioner to visit the churches of the west, he persuaded the gentlemen of that quarter to enter into a new bond of defense. Hastening into Galloway and Nithsdale, he, by his sermons and conversation, confirmed the Protestants of these places. He employed the master of Maxwell to write to the Earl of Bothwell, who had escaped from confinement, and meant, it was feared, to join Huntly.
He himself wrote to the Duke of Chastelherault, warning him not to listen to the solicitations of his brother, the archbishop, nor accede to a conspiracy which would infallibly prove the ruin of his house. By these means, the southern parts of the kingdom were preserved in a state of peace, while the vigorous measures of the Council crushed the rebellion in the north. The Queen expressed little satisfaction at the victory, and there is every reason to think, that if she was not privy to the rising of Huntly, she expected to turn it to the advancement of her projects. She scrupled not to say, at this time, that she “hoped, before a year was expired, to have the mass and Catholic profession restored through the whole kingdom”.
While these hopes were indulged, the popish clergy thought it necessary to gain credit to their cause, by appearing more openly in defense of their tenets than they had lately done. They began to preach publicly, and boasted that they were ready to dispute with the Protestant ministers.
The person who stepped forward as their champion was Quintin Kennedy, uncle of the Earl of Cassilis, and abbot of Crossraguel. The abbot appears to have spent the greater part of his life in the same negligence of the duties of his office with the rest of his brethren; but he was roused from his inactivity by the success of the Protestant preachers, who, in the years 1556 and 1557, attacked the popish faith, and inveighed against the idleness and corruption of the clergy. At an age when others retire from the field, he began to rub up his long neglected theological weapons, and to gird on his armor.
His first appearance was in 1558, when he published a short system of Catholic tactics, under the title of “Ane Compendious Tractive”, showing “the nearest and only way” to establish the conscience of a Christian man, in all matters which were in debate concerning faith and religion. This way was no other than that of implicit faith in the decisions of the Church or clergy. The Scripture was only a witness, the Church was the judge, in every controversy, whose determinations, in general councils canonically assembled, were to be humbly received and submitted to by all the faithful. This was no doubt the most compendious and nearest way of establishing the conscience of every Christian man, and deciding every controversy which might arise, without examination, reasoning, and debate.
But as the stubborn Reformers would not submit to this easy and short mode of decision, the abbot was reluctantly obliged to enter the lists of argument with them. Accordingly, when Willock preached in his neighborhood, in the beginning of 1559, he challenged him to a dispute on the sacrifice of the mass. The challenge was accepted, the time and place were fixed; but the abbot refused to appear, unless his antagonist would previously engage to submit to the interpretations of Scripture which had been given by the ancient doctors of the Church. From this time he seems to have made the mass the great subject of his study, and endeavored to qualify himself for defending this keystone of the popish arch.
George Hay having been sent by the General Assembly to preach in Carrick and Cunningham, during the autumn of 1562, Kennedy offered to dispute with him; but no meeting took place between them. On the 30th of August, the abbot read in his chapel of Kirk Oswald, a number of articles respecting the mass, purgatory, praying to saints, the use of images, etc., which he said he would defend against any who should impugn them, and promised to declare his mind more fully respecting them on the following Sabbath. Knox, who was in the vicinity, came to Kirk Oswald on that day, with the design of hearing the abbot, and granting him the disputation which he had courted. The abbot not making his appearance, he himself preached in the chapel. When he came down from the pulpit, there was a letter from Kennedy put into his hand, stating, that he understood he had come to that country to seek disputation, and offering to meet with him on the following Sabbath in any house in Maybole, provided there were not more than twenty persons on each side admitted. Knox replied, that he had come, not purposely to dispute, but to preach the gospel; he was, however, willing to meet with him; he was under a previous engagement to be in Dumfries on the day mentioned by the abbot, but if he sent him his articles, he would, with all convenient speed, return and fix a time.
A correspondence was carried on between them on this subject, which is fully as curious as the dispute which ensued. Knox wished that his reasoning should be as public as the abbot had made his articles, and proposed that it should take place in St. John’s Church in Ayr; but the abbot refused to dispute publicly. The Earl of Cassilis wrote to Knox, expressing his disapprobation of the proposed disputation, as unlikely to do any good, and calculated to endanger the public peace; to which the Reformer replied, by signifying, that his relation had given the challenge, which he was resolved not to decline, and that his lordship ought to encourage him to keep the appointment, from which no bad effects were to be dreaded. Upon this the abbot, feeling his honor touched, wrote a letter to the Reformer, in which he told him that he would have “rencountered” him the last time he was in the country, had it not been for the interposition of the Earl of Cassilis, and charged him with stirring up his nephew to write that letter, in order to bring him into disgrace. “Ye shall be assured,” says he, “I shall keep day and place in Maybole, according to my writing, and I have my life, and my feet loose”, and in another letter to Knox and the bailies of Ayr, he says, “keep your promise, and pretext no jokery, by my lord of Cassilis’ writing”. The abbot being in this state of mind, the conditions of the combat were speedily settled. They agreed to meet on the 28th of September, at 8 a.m., in the house of the provost of Maybole. Forty persons on each side were to be admitted as witnesses of the dispute, with “as many more as the house might goodly hold, at the sight of my lord of Cassilis”. And notaries or scribes were appointed to record the papers which might be given in by the parties, and the arguments which they advanced in the course of reasoning to prevent unnecessary repetition, or a false report of the proceedings. These conditions were formally subscribed by the abbot and the Reformer, on the day preceding the meeting.
When they met, “John Knox addressed him to make public prayer, whereat the abbot was sore offended at the first, but while the said John would in no wise be stayed, he and his gave audience; which being ended, the abbot said, ‘By my faith, it is well said’.” The reasoning commenced by reading a paper presented by the abbot, in which, after rehearsing the occasion of his present appearance, and protesting that his entering into dispute was not to be understood as implying that the points in question were disputable or dubious, being already determined by lawful general councils, he declared his readiness to defend the articles which he had exhibited, beginning with that concerning the sacrifice of the mass. To this paper Knox gave in a written answer in the course of the disputation: in the meantime, after stating his opinion respecting general councils, he proceeded to the article in dispute. It was requisite, he said, to state clearly and distinctly the subject in controversy; and he thought it contained the four following things, the name, the form and action, the opinion entertained of it, and the actor with the authority which he had to do what he pretended to do: all of which he was prepared to show were destitute of any foundation in Scripture. The abbot was aware of the difficulty of managing the dispute on such broad ground, and he had taken up ground of his own, which he thought he could maintain against his antagonist. “As to the mass that he will impugn,” said he, “or any man’s mass, yea, and it were the pope’s own mass, I will maintain nothing but Jesus Christ’s mass, conform to my article, as it is written, and definition contained in my book, which he has taken on hand to impugn.”
Knox expressed his delight at hearing the abbot say that he would defend nothing but the mass of Christ, for if he adhered to this, they were “on the very point of a Christian agreement”, as he was ready to allow whatever could be shown to have been instituted by Christ. As to his lordship’s book, he confessed he had not read it, and (without excusing his negligence), requested the definition to be read to him from it. The abbot qualified his assertion, by saying, that he meant to defend no other mass, except that which in its “substance, institution, and effect”, was appointed by Christ; and he defined the mass, as concerning the substance and effect, to be the sacrifice and oblation of the Lord’s body and blood, given and offered by him in the last supper; and for the first confirmation of this, he rested upon the oblation of bread and wine by Melchizedek. His argument was, that the Scripture declared that Christ was a priest after the order of Melchizedek: Melchizedek offered bread and wine to God: therefore Christ offered or made oblation of his body and blood in the last supper, which was the only instance in which the priesthood of Christ and Melchizedek could agree.
Knox said that the ceremonies of the mass, and the opinion entertained of it, as procuring remission of sins to the quick and the dead, were viewed as important parts of it, and having a strong hold of the consciences of the people, ought to be taken into the argument; but as the abbot declared himself willing to defend these afterwards, he would proceed to the substance, and proposed, in the first place, to fix the sense in which the word sacrifice or oblation was used in the argument. There were sacrifices propitiatoriae, for expiation, and eucharisticae, of thanksgiving; in which last sense the mortification of the body, prayer, and alms-giving, were called sacrifices in Scripture. He wished, therefore, to know whether the abbot understood the word in the first or second of these senses in this dispute. The abbot said, that he would not at present dispute what his opponent meant by a sacrifice propitiatorium; but he held the sacrifice on the cross to be the only sacrifice of redemption, and that of the mass to be the sacrifice of commemoration of the death and passion of Christ. Knox replied, that the chief head which he intended to impugn seemed to be yielded by the abbot; and he, for his part, cheerfully granted, that there was a commemoration of Christ’s death in the right use of the ordinance of the supper.
The abbot insisted that he should proceed to impugn the warrant which he had taken from Scripture for his article. “Protesting,” said the Reformer, “that this much is won, that the sacrifice of the mass being denied by me to be a sacrifice propitiatory for the sins of the quick and the dead (according to the opinion thereof before conceived), hath no patron at the present, I am content to proceed... . I protest he has won nothing of me as yet, and refers it to black and white contained in our writing... . I have openly denied the mass to be a sacrifice propitiatory for the quick, etc., and the defense thereof is denied. And, therefore, I refer me unto the same judges that my lord hath claimed... . Ye may deny what ye please; for all that ye deny I take not presently to impugn; but where I began there will I end, that is, to defend the mass conform to my article.” “Your lordship’s ground,” said Knox, after some altercation, “is, that Melchizedek is the figure of Christ in that he did offer unto God bread and wine, and that it behoved Jesus Christ to offer, in His latter supper, His body and blood, under the forms of bread and wine. I answer to your ground yet again, that Melchizedek offered neither bread nor wine unto God; and therefore, it that ye would thereupon conclude hath no assurance of your ground.” “Prove that,” said the abbot. Knox replied, that, according to the rules of just reasoning, he could not be bound to prove a negative; that it was incumbent on his opponent to bring forward some proof for his affirmation, concerning which the text was altogether silent; and that until the abbot did this, it was sufficient for him simply to deny. But the abbot said, he “stuck to his text”, and insisted that his antagonist should show for what purpose Melchizedek brought out the bread and wine, if it was not to offer it unto God. After protesting that the abbot’s ground remained destitute of any support, and that he was not bound in argument to show what became of the bread and wine, or what use was made of them, Knox consented to state his opinion, that they were intended by Melchizedek to refresh Abraham and his company. The abbot had now gained what he wished; and he had a number of objections ready to start against this view of the words, by which he was able at least to protract and involve the dispute. And thus ended the first day’s contest.
When the company convened on the following day, the abbot proceeded to impugn the view which his opponent had given of the text. He urged first, that Abraham and his company had a sufficiency of provision in the spoils which they had taken from the enemy in their late victory, and did not need Melchizedek’s bread and wine; and, secondly, that the text said that Melchizedek brought them forth, and it was improbable that one man, and he a king, should carry as much as would refresh three hundred and eighteen men. To these objections Knox made such replies as will occur to any person who thinks on the subject. In this manner did the second day pass. When they met on the third day, the abbot presented a paper, in which he stated another objection to Knox’s view of the text. After some more altercation on the subject, Knox desired his opponent to proceed to the promised proof of the argument upon which he had rested his cause.
But the abbot, being indisposed, rose up, and put into Knox’s hand a book to which he referred him for the proof. By this time, the noblemen and gentlemen present were completely wearied out. For besides the tedious and uninteresting mode in which the disputation had been managed, they could find entertainment neither for themselves nor for their retinue in Maybole; so that if any person had brought in bread and wine among them, it is presumable that they would not have debated long upon the purpose for which it was brought. Knox proposed that they should adjourn to Ayr and finish the dispute, which was refused by the abbot, who said he would come to Edinburgh for that purpose, provided he could obtain the Queen’s permission. Upon this the company dismissed.
The abbot, or his friends, having circulated the report that he had the advantage in the disputation, Knox afterwards published the account of it from the records of the notaries, and added a prologue and short marginal notes. The prologue and his answer to the abbot’s first paper, especially the latter, are pieces of good writing. I have been more minute in the narration of this dispute than its merits deserve, because no account of it has hitherto appeared, the tract itself being so exceedingly rare, as to have been seen by few for a long period.
Another priest who advocated the Roman Catholic cause at this time was Ninian Wingate, who had been schoolmaster of Linlithgow, from which situation he was removed by Spottiswood, superintendent of Lothian, on account of his attachment to popery. In the month of February 1562, he sent to Knox a writing, consisting of eighty-three questions upon the principal topics of dispute between the papists and Protestants, which he had drawn up in the name of the inferior clergy and laity of the Catholic persuasion in Scotland. To some of these, particularly the questions which related to the call of the Protestant ministers, the Reformer returned an answer from the pulpit, and Wingate addressed several letters to him, complaining that his answers were not satisfactory. These letters, with addresses to the Queen, nobility, bishops, and magistrates of Edinburgh, Wingate committed to the press, but the impression being seized in the printer’s house (according to Bishop Lesley), the author escaped and went to the Continent. Knox intended to publish an answer to Wingate’s questions, and to defend the validity of the Protestant ministry; but it does not appear that he carried his intention into execution.
In the beginning of 1563, Knox went to Jedburgh, by appointment of the General Assembly, to investigate a scandal which had broken out against Paul Methven, the minister of that place, who was suspected of adultery.
The accused was found guilty, and excommunicated. He fled to England, but having afterwards returned and offered to submit to the discipline of the Church, a severe and humiliating course of public repentance was prescribed to him. He went through a part of it, with professions of deep sorrow; but overwhelmed with shame, or despairing to regain his lost reputation, he stopped in the midst of it, and again retired to England.
Prudential considerations were not awanting to induce the Reformed Church of Scotland to stifle this fama, and screen from public ignominy a man who had acted a distinguished part in the late Reformation of religion.
But they refused to listen to these; and by instituting a strict scrutiny into the fact, and inflicting an exemplary punishment upon the criminal, they “approved themselves to be clear in this matter”, and effectually shut the mouths of their popish adversaries.
The mode of public repentance enjoined on this occasion was appointed to be afterwards used in all cases of aggravated immorality. There was nothing in which the Scottish Reformers approached nearer to the primitive Church than in the rigorous and impartial exercise of ecclesiastical discipline, the relaxation of which, under the papacy, they justly regarded as one great cause of the universal corruption of religion.
While they rejected many of the ceremonies in worship which were used by the Christians during the three first centuries after the time of the apostles, they, from detestation of vice, and a desire to restrain it, did not scruple to conform to a number of their penitentiary regulations. In some instances, they might carry their rigor against offenders to an extreme; but it was a virtuous extreme, compared with the dangerous laxity, or rather total disuse of discipline, which has gradually crept into almost all the Churches which retain the name of Reformed: even as the scrupulous delicacy with which our forefathers shunned the society of those who had transgressed the rules of morality, is to be preferred to modern manners, by which the virtuous and vicious are equally admitted to good company. ‘Twas heard perhaps on here and there a waif, Desirous to return, and not received:
But was an wholesome rigor in the main, And taught the unblemished to preserve with care That purity, whose loss was loss of all. — But now — yes, now, We are become so candid and so fair, So liberal in construction, and so rich In Christian charity, (good-natured age!)
That they are safe, sinners of either sex, Transgress what laws they may. In the month of May, the Queen sent for Knox to Loch Leven. The popish priests, presuming upon her avowed partiality to them, and secret promises of protection, had of late become more bold, and during the late Easter, masses had been openly celebrated in the different parts of the kingdom. The Queen in council had issued various proclamations against this, but as the execution had hitherto been left to her, nothing had followed upon them. The Protestants of the west, who were the most zealous, perceiving that the laws were eluded, resolved to execute them, without making any application to the court, and apprehended some of the offenders by way of example. These decided proceedings highly offended the Queen, as they were calculated to defeat the scheme of policy which she had formed; but finding that the signification of her displeasure had not the effect of stopping them, she wished to avail herself of the Reformer’s influence for accomplishing her purpose.
She dealt with him very earnestly, for two hours before supper, to persuade the western gentlemen to desist from all interruption of the Catholic worship. He told Her Majesty, that if she would exercise her authority in executing the laws of the land, he could promise for the peaceable behavior of the Protestants; but if Her Majesty thought to elude them, he feared there were some who would let the papists understand that they should not offend with impunity. “Will ye allow, that they shall take my sword in their hands?” said the Queen. “The sword of justice is God’s,” replied the Reformer with equal firmness, “and is given to princes and rulers for one end, which if they transgress, sparing the wicked and oppressing the innocent, they who, in the fear of God, execute judgment where God has commanded, offend not God, although kings do it not.” He added, that the gentlemen of the west were acting strictly according to law; for the Act of Parliament gave power to all judges within their bounds, to search for and punish those who should transgress its enactments. He concluded with advising Her Majesty to consider the terms of the mutual contract between her and her subjects, and that she could not expect to receive obedience from them, if she did not grant unto them protection, and the execution of justice. The Queen broke off the conversation with evident marks of displeasure.
Having communicated what had passed between them to the Earl of Moray (which was the title now conferred on the prior of St. Andrews), Knox meant to return to Edinburgh next day, without waiting for any further communication with the Queen. But a message was delivered him early in the morning, desiring him not to depart until he had again spoken to Her Majesty. He accordingly met with her west from Kinross, where she took the amusement of hawking. This interview was very different from that of the preceding evening. Waiving entirely the subject on which they had differed, she introduced a variety of topics, upon which she conversed with the greatest familiarity and apparent confidence. Lord Ruthven, she said, had offered her a ring; but she could not love him. She knew that he used enchantment; and yet he was made one of her Privy Council. Lethington, she said, was the sole cause of that appointment. “I understand,” said she, introducing another subject of discourse, “that ye are appointed to go to Dumfries, for the election of a superintendent to be established in these countries.” He answered in the affirmative. “But I understand the Bishop of Athens would be superintendent.” “He is one, madam, that is put in election.” “If you knew him as well as I do, you would not promote him to that office, nor yet to any other within your kirk.” Knox said that he deceived many more than him, if he did not fear God. “Well, do as you will; but that man is a dangerous man.”
When Knox was about to take his leave of Her Majesty, she pressed him to stay. “I have one of the greatest matters that have touched me since I came into this realm to open to you, and I must have your help in it,” said she, with an air of condescension and confidence as enchanting as if she had put a ring on his finger. She then entered into a long discourse concerning a domestic difference between the Earl of Argyle and his lady.
Her ladyship had not, she said, been so circumspect in every thing as she could have wished, but still she was of opinion that his lordship had not treated her in an honest and godly manner. Knox said that he was not unacquainted with the disagreeable variance which had subsisted between that honorable couple, and, before Her Majesty’s arrival in this country, he had effected a reconciliation. On that occasion, the countess had promised not to complain to any creature before acquainting him; and as he had never heard from her, he concluded that there was nothing but concord. “Well,” said the queen, “it is worse than ye believe. But do this much, for my sake, as once again to put them at unity, and if she behave not herself as she ought to do, she shall find no favor of me; but in any wise let not my lord know that I have requested you in this matter.” Then introducing the subject of their reasoning on the preceding evening, she said, “I promise to do as ye required: I shall cause summon all offenders; and ye shall know that I shall minister justice”. “I am assured then,” said he, “that ye shall please God, and enjoy rest and tranquillity within your realm, which to Your Majesty is more profitable than all the Pope’s power can be.” Upon this he took his leave of the Queen.
This interview strikingly exhibits one part of Queen Mary’s character. It shows how far she was capable of dissembling, what artifice she could employ, and what condescensions she could make, in order to accomplish the schemes upon which she was bent. She had formerly attacked the Reformer on another quarter without success; she now resolved to try if she could soothe his stern temper by flattering his vanity, and disarm his jealousy by strong marks of confidence. There is some reason to think that she partly succeeded in her design. For though he was not very susceptible of flattery, and must have been struck with the sudden change in the Queen’s views and behavior, there are few minds that can altogether resist the impression made by the condescending familiarity of persons of superior rank; and our feelings, on such occasions, chide as uncharitable the cold suspicions suggested by our judgment. In obedience to Her Majesty’s request, he wrote a letter to the Earl of Argyle, which was not very pleasing to that nobleman. From deference to the opinion which she had expressed of the Bishop of Galloway, he inquired more narrowly into his conduct, and postponed the election. And the report which he gave of the Queen’s gracious answer operated in her favor on the public mind.
But if his zeal suffered a temporary intermission, it soon rekindled with fresh ardor. On the 19th of May, the Archbishop of St. Andrews and a number of the principal papists were arraigned, by the Queen’s orders, before the Lord Justice-General, for transgressing the laws; and having come in Her Majesty’s will, were committed to ward. But this was merely a stroke of policy, to enable her more easily to carry her measures in the Parliament which met on the following day.
This was the first Parliament which had met since the Queen’s arrival in Scotland; and it was natural to expect that they would proceed to ratify the treaty of peace made in July 1560, and the establishment of the Protestant religion. If the Acts of the former Parliament were invalid, as the Queen had repeatedly declared, the Protestants had not law on their side; they held their religion at the mercy of their sovereign, and might be required, at her pleasure, to submit to popery, as the religion which still possessed the legal establishment. But so well had she laid her plans, such was the effect of her insinuating address, and, above all, so powerful was the temptation of self-interest on the minds of the Protestant leaders, that, by general consent, they passed from this demand, and lost the only favorable opportunity, during the reign of Mary, for giving a legal security to the Reformed religion, and thereby removing one principal source of jealousies. An Act of Oblivion, securing indemnity to those who had been engaged in the late civil war, was indeed passed; but the mode of its enactment virtually implied the invalidity of the treaty in which it had been originally embodied; and the Protestants, on their bended knees, supplicated, as a boon from their sovereign, what they had formerly won with their swords, and repeatedly demanded as their right. The other Acts made to please the more zealous Reformers were expressed with such studied and glaring ambiguity, as to offer an insult to their understandings.
Our Reformer was thunderstruck when first informed of the measures which were in agitation, and could scarcely believe them serious. He immediately procured an interview with some of the principal members of Parliament, to whom he represented the danger of allowing that meeting to dissolve without obtaining the ratification of the Acts of the preceding Parliament, or at least those Acts which established the Reformation.
They alleged that the Queen would never have agreed to call this meeting, if they had persisted in these demands; but there was a prospect of her speedy marriage, and on that occasion they would obtain all their wishes.
In vain he reminded them that poets and painters had represented “Occasion” with a bald hind-head; in vain he urged that the event to which they looked forward would be accompanied with difficulties of its own, which would require all their skill and circumspection. Their determination was fixed. He now perceived the full extent of the Queen’s dissimulation; and the selfishness and servility of the Protestant leaders affected him deeply.
So hot was the altercation between the Earl of Moray and him on this subject, that an open rupture ensued. He had long looked upon that nobleman as one of the most steady and sincere adherents to the Reformed cause; and therefore felt the greater disappointment at his conduct. Under his first irritation he wrote a letter to the earl, in which, after reminding him of his condition at the time when they first became acquainted in London, and the honors to which Providence had now raised him, he solemnly renounced friendship with him as one who preferred his own interest and the pleasure of his sister to the advancement of religion, left him to the guidance of the new counselors which he had chosen, and exonerated him from all future concern in his affairs. This variance, which continued nearly two years, was very gratifying to the Queen and others, who disliked their former familiarity, and failed not, as Knox informs us, to “cast oil into the flame, until God did quench it by the water of affliction”.
Before the dissolution of the Parliament, the Reformer embraced an opportunity of disburdening his mind in the presence of the greater part of the members assembled in his church. After discoursing of the great mercy of God shown to Scotland, in marvelously delivering them from bondage of soul and body, and of the deep ingratitude which he perceived in all ranks of persons, he addressed himself particularly to the nobility. He praised God that he had an opportunity of pouring out the sorrows of his heart in their presence, who could attest the truth of all that he had spoken. He appealed to their consciences if he had not, in their greatest extremities, exhorted them to depend upon God, and assured them of preservation and victory, if they preferred His glory to their own lives and secular interests. “I have been with you in your most desperate temptations,” continued he, in a strain of impassioned eloquence: “in your most extreme dangers I have been with you. St. Johnston, 2 Cupar Moor, and the Craggs of Edinburgh, are yet recent in my heart; yea, that dark and dolorous night wherein all ye, my lords, with shame and fear, left this town, is yet in my mind, and God forbid that ever I forget it! What was, I say, my exhortation to you, and what has fallen in vain of all that ever God promised unto you by my mouth, ye yourselves yet live to testify.
There is not one of you against whom was death and destruction threatened perished; and how many of your enemies has God plagued before your eyes? Shall this be the thankfulness that ye shall render unto your God? To betray His cause, when ye have it in your hands to establish it as you please?” He saw nothing, he said, “but a cowardly desertion of Christ’s standard. Some had even the effrontery to say that they had neither law nor parliament for their religion. They had the authority of God for their religion, the truth of which was independent of human laws; but it was also accepted within this realm in public Parliament; and that Parliament he would maintain to have been as lawful as any ever held in the kingdom.
In the conclusion of his discourse, he adverted to the reports of Her Majesty’s marriage, and the princes who courted this alliance; and, desiring the audience to mark his words, predicted the consequences which were to be dreaded, if ever the nobility consented that their sovereign should marry a papist.
Protestants as well as papists were offended with the freedom of this sermon, and some who had been most familiar with the preacher now shunned his company. Flatterers were not wanting to run to the Queen, and inform her that John Knox had preached against her marriage. After surmounting the opposition to her measures, and managing so successfully the haughty and independent barons of her kingdom, Mary was incensed that there should yet be one man of obscure condition, who ventured to condemn her proceedings; and as she could not tame his stubbornness, she determined to punish his temerity. Knox was ordered instantly to appear before her. Lord Ochiltree, with several gentlemen, accompanied him to the palace; but the superintendent of Angus alone was allowed to go with him into the royal presence.
Her Majesty received him in a very different manner from what she had done at Loch Leven. Never had prince been handled, she passionately exclaimed, as she was: she had borne with him in all his rigorous speeches against herself and her uncles; she had sought his favor by all means; she had offered unto him audience whenever he pleased to admonish her. “And yet,” said she, “I cannot be quit of you. I vow to God I shall be once revenged.” On pronouncing these words with great violence, she burst into a flood of tears which interrupted her speech. When the Queen had composed herself, he proceeded calmly to make his defense. Her Grace and he had, he said, at different times been engaged in controversy, and he never before perceived her offended with him. When it should please God to deliver her from the bondage of error in which she had been trained through want of instruction in the truth, he trusted that Her Majesty would not find the liberty of his tongue offensive. Out of the pulpit he thought few had occasion to be offended with him; but there he was not master of himself, but bound to obey Him Who commanded him to speak plainly, and to flatter no flesh on the face of the earth. “But what have you to do with my marriage?” said the Queen. He was proceeding to state the extent of his commission as a preacher, and the reasons which led him to touch on that delicate subject; but she interrupted him by repeating her question; “What have ye to do with my marriage? Or what are you in this commonwealth?” “A subject born within the same, madam,” replied the Reformer, piqued by the last question, and the contemptuous tone in which it was proposed. “And albeit I be neither earl, lord, nor baron in it, yet has God made me (how abject that ever I be in your eyes) a profitable member within the same.
Yea, madam, to me it appertains no less to forewarn of such things as may hurt it, if I foresee them, than it doth to any of the nobility; for both my vocation and conscience requires plainness of me. And therefore, madam, to yourself I say that which I spake in public place: ‘Whensoever the nobility of this realm shall consent that ye be subject to an unfaithful husband, they do as much as in them lieth to renounce Christ, to banish His truth from them, to betray the freedom of this realm, and perchance shall in the end do small comfort to yourself.’” At these words, the Queen began again to weep and sob with great bitterness. The superintendent, who was a man of mild and gentle spirit, tried to mitigate her grief and resentment: he praised her beauty and her accomplishments; and told her, that there was not a prince in Europe who would not reckon himself happy in gaining her hand. During this scene, the severe and inflexible mind of the Reformer displayed itself. He continued silent, and with unaltered countenance, until the Queen had given vent to her feelings. He then protested, that he never took delight in the distress of any creature; it was with great difficulty that he could see his own boys weep when he corrected them for their faults, far less could he rejoice in Her Majesty’s tears: but seeing he had given her no just reason of offense, and had only discharged his duty, he was constrained, though unwillingly, to sustain her tears, rather than hurt his conscience, and betray the commonwealth through his silence.
This apology inflamed the Queen still more: she ordered him immediately to leave her presence, and wait the signification of her pleasure in the adjoining room. There he stood as “one whom men had never seen”; all his friends (Lord Ochiltree excepted) being afraid to show him the smallest countenance. In this situation he addressed himself to the court-ladies, who sat in their richest dress in the chamber. “O fair ladies, how pleasing were this life of yours, if it should ever abide, and then, in the end, that we might pass to heaven with all this gay gear!”
Having engaged them in a conversation, he passed the time till Erskine came and informed him, that he was allowed to go home until Her Majesty had taken further advice. The Queen insisted to have the judgment of the Lords of Articles, whether the words he had used in the pulpit were not actionable; but she was persuaded to desist from a prosecution. “And so that storm quieted in appearance, but never in the heart.”
No expressions are sufficiently strong to describe the horror which many feel at the monstrous insensibility and inhumanity of Knox, in remaining unmoved, while “youth, beauty, and royal dignity” were dissolved in tears before him. Enchanting, surely, must the charms of the Queen of Scots have been, and iron-hearted the Reformer who could resist their impression, when they continue to this day to exercise such a sway over the hearts of men, that even grave and serious authors, not addicted to the language of gallantry and romance, can protest that they cannot read of the tears which she shed on this occasion, without feeling an inclination to weep along with her. There may be some, however, who, knowing how much real misery there is in the world, are not disposed to waste their feelings unnecessarily, and who are of opinion, that there was not much to commiserate in the condition of the Queen, nor to reprobate in the conduct of the Reformer. Considering that she had been so fortunate in her measures, and found her nobility so ready to gratify her wishes, the passion by which she suffered herself to be transported was extravagant, and her tears must have been those of anger and not of grief. On the other hand, when we consider that Knox was at this time deserted by his friends, and stood almost alone in resisting the will of a princess, who accomplished her measures chiefly by caresses and tears, we may be disposed to form a more favorable idea of his conduct and motives. We behold not, indeed, the enthusiastic lover, mingling his tears with those of his mistress, and vowing to revenge her wrongs; nor the man of nice sensibility, who loses every other consideration in the gratification of his feelings; but we behold what is more rare, the stern patriot, the rigid reformer, who, in the discharge of his duty, and in a public cause, can withstand the tide of tenderness as well as the storm of passion. There have been times when such conduct was regarded as the proof of a superior mind; and the man who, from such motives, “hearkened not to the wife of his bosom, nor knew his own children”, has been the object not of censure, but admiration, in sacred as well as pagan story.
When Knox lay under the displeasure of the court, and had lost the confidence of his principal friends, his enemies judged it a favorable opportunity for attacking him in (what was universally allowed to be irreproachable) his moral conduct. At the very time that he was engaged in scrutinizing the scandal against Methven, and inflicting upon him the highest censure of the Church, it was alleged that he himself was guilty of a similar crime. Euphemia Dundas, an inhabitant of Edinburgh, inveighing one day, in the presence of a circle of her acquaintances, against the Protestant doctrine and ministers, said, among other things, that John Knox had been a common whoremonger all his days, and that, within a few days past, he “was apprehended and taken forth of a killogye 3 with a common whore”. This might perhaps have been passed over by Knox and the Church as an effusion of popish spleen, and female scandal; but the recent occurrence at Jedburgh, the situation in which the Reformer at present stood, the public manner in which the charge had been brought, and the specification of a particular instance, seemed to them to justify and call for a legal prosecution. Accordingly, the clerk of the General Assembly, on the 18th of June, gave in a formal representation and petition to the town council, praying that the woman might be called before them, and the matter examined; that if the accusation was found true, the accused might be punished with all rigor without partiality; and that, if false, the accuser might be dealt with according to the demerit of her offense. She was called, and, appearing before the council, flatly refused that she had ever used any such words; although Knox’s procurator afterwards produced respectable witnesses to prove that she had spoken them.
This convicted calumny, which never gained the smallest credit at the time, would scarcely have deserved notice, had it not been revived, after the Reformer’s death, by the popish writers, who, having caught hold of the report, and dressed it out in all the horrid colors which malice, or credulity could suggest, circulated it industriously, by their publications, through the Continent. Though I had not been able to trace these slanders to their source, the atrocity of the imputed crimes, the unspotted reputation which the accused uniformly maintained among all his contemporaries, the glaring self-contradictions of the accusers, and, above all, the notorious spirit of slander and wanton defamation for which they have long been stigmatized in the learned world, would have been grounds sufficient for rejecting such charges with detestation. Those who are acquainted with the writings of that period will not think that I speak too strongly.
The Queen flattered herself that she had at last caught the Reformer in an offense, which would infallibly subject him to exemplary punishment.
During her residence at Stirling, in the month of August, the domestics whom she had left behind her in Holyrood House celebrated the popish worship with greater publicity than had been usual when she herself was present; and at the time when the Sacrament of the Supper was dispensed in Edinburgh, they revived certain superstitious practices which had been laid aside by the Roman Catholics, since the establishment of the Reformation. This boldness offended the Protestants, and some of them went down to the palace to mark the inhabitants who repaired to the service. Perceiving numbers entering, they burst into the chapel, and presenting themselves at the altar, which was prepared for mass, asked the priest, how he durst be so malapert 4 as to proceed in that manner, when the Queen was absent? Alarmed at this intrusion, the mistress of the household dispatched a messenger to the comptroller, who was attending sermon in St. Giles’ Church, desiring him to come instantly to save her life and the palace. Having hurried down, accompanied with the magistrates, and a guard, the comptroller found every thing quiet and no appearance of tumult, except what was occasioned by the company which he brought along with him. When the report of this affair was conveyed to the Queen, she declared her resolution not to return to Edinburgh unless this riot was punished, and indicted two of the Protestants, who had been most active, to stand trial “for forethought felony, hame-suckin, 5 and invasion of the palace”. Fearing that she intended to proceed to extremities against these men, and that their condemnation was a preparative to some hostile attempts against their religion, the Protestants in Edinburgh resolved that Knox, agreeably to a commission, should write a circular letter to the principal gentlemen of their persuasion, informing them of the circumstances, and requesting their presence on the day of trial. He wrote the letter according to their request. A copy of it having come into the hands of Sinclair, Bishop of Ross, and president of the Court of Session, who was a great personal enemy to Knox, he conveyed it immediately to the Queen at stirling. She communicated it to the Privy Council, who, to her great satisfaction, pronounced it treasonable; but to give the greater solemnity to the proceedings, it was resolved that an extraordinary convention of the counselors and other noblemen should be called to meet at Edinburgh, in the end of December, to try the cause. The Reformer was summoned to appear before this convention.
Previous to the day of trial, great influence was used in private to persuade or intimidate him to acknowledge a fault, and throw himself on the Queen’s mercy. This he peremptorily refused to do. The master of Maxwell (afterwards Lord Herries), with whom he had long been very intimate, threatened him with the loss of his friendship, and told him that he would repent, if he did not submit to the Queen, for men would not bear with him as they had hitherto done. He replied, that he did not understand such language; he had never opposed Her Majesty except in the article of religion, and surely it was not meant that he should bow to her in that matter; if God stood by him, which He would do as long as he confided in Him, and preferred His glory to his own life, he regarded little how men should behave towards him; nor did he know wherein they had borne with him, unless in hearing the Word of God from his mouth, which, if they should reject, he would mourn for them, but the danger would be their own.
The Earl of Moray, and secretary Maitland, sent for him to the Clerk Register’s house, and had a long conversation with him to the same purpose. They represented the pains which they had taken to mitigate the Queen’s resentment, and that nothing could save him but a timely submission. He gave them the same answer, that he never would confess a fault when he was conscious of none, and had not learned to cry treason at every thing which the multitude called treason, nor to fear what they feared. The wily secretary endeavored to bring on a dispute on the subject, and to draw from him the defense which he meant to make for himself; but Knox, aware of his craft, declined the conversation, and told him that it would be foolish to intrust with his defenses one who had already prejudged his cause.
On the day appointed for the trial, the public anxiety was greatly raised, and the palace yard, with all the avenues, was crowded with people, who waited to learn the result. The panel was conducted to the chamber in which the lords were already assembled, and engaged in consultation.
When the Queen had taken her seat and perceived Knox standing uncovered at the foot of the table, she burst into a loud fit of laughter. “That man,” she said, “had made her weep, and shed never a tear himself: she would now see if she could make him weep.” The secretary opened the proceedings, by stating in a speech addressed to the Reformer, the reasons why the Queen had convened him before her nobility. “Let him acknowledge his own handwriting,” said the Queen, “and then we shall judge of the contents of the letter.” A copy of the circular letter being handed to him, he looked at the subscription, and said that it was his; and though he had subscribed a number of blanks, he had such confidence in the fidelity of the scribe, that he was ready to acknowledge both the subscription and the contents. “You have done more than I would have done,” said Maitland. “Charity is not suspicious,” replied the other. “Well, well,” said the Queen, “read your own letter, and then answer to such things as shall be demanded of you.” “I will do the best I can,” said he; and having read the letter with an audible voice, returned it to the Queen’s advocate, who was commanded to accuse him. “Heard you ever, my lords, a more despiteful and treasonable letter?” said the Queen, looking round the table. “Mr. Knox, are you not sorry from your heart, and do you not repent that such a letter has passed your pen, and from you has come to the knowledge of others?” said Maitland. “My lord secretary, before I repent I must be taught my offense.” “Offense! if there were no more but the convocation of the Queen’s lieges, 6 the offense cannot be denied.” “Remember yourself, my lord, there is a difference between a lawful convocation and an unlawful. If I have been guilty in this, I offended oft since I came last into Scotland; for what convocation of the brethren has ever been to this hour, unto which my pen served not?” “Then was then, and now is now,” said the secretary; “we have no need of such convocations as sometimes we have had.” “The time that has been is even now before my eyes,” rejoined the Reformer; “for I see the poor flock in no less danger than it has been at any time before, except that the devil has got a visor upon his face. Before he came in with his own face, discovered by open tyranny, seeking the destruction of all that refused idolatry; and then, I think, you will confess the brethren lawfully assembled themselves for defense of their lives: and now the devil comes under the cloak of justice, to do that which God would not suffer him to do by strength...” “What is this?” interrupted Her Majesty, who was offended that the panel should be allowed such liberty of speech, and thought that she could bring him more closely to the question. “What is this? Methinks you trifle with him. Who gave him authority to make convocation of my lieges? Is not that treason?” “No, madam,” replied Lord Ruthven, displeased at the active keenness which the Queen showed in the cause; “for he makes convocation of the people to hear prayer and sermon almost daily; and whatever Your Grace or others will think thereof, we think it no treason.” “Hold your peace,” said the Queen; “and let him make answer for himself.” “I began, madam,” resumed Knox, “to reason with the secretary (whom I take to be a better dialectician than Your Grace) that all convocations are not unlawful; and now my Lord Ruthven has given the instance.” “I will say nothing against your religion, nor against your convening to your sermons; but what authority have you to convocate my subjects when you will, without my commandment?” He answered, that at his own will he had never convened four persons in Scotland, but at the orders of his brethren he had given many advertisements, and great multitudes had assembled; and if Her Grace complained that his had been done without her command, he would answer, that so was all that had been done as to the Reformation of religion in this kingdom. He must, therefore, be convicted by a just law, before he would profess sorrow for what he had done: he thought he had done no wrong. “You shall not escape so,” said the Queen. “Is it not treason, my lords, to accuse a prince of cruelty? I think there be Acts of Parliament against such whisperers.” Several of their lordships said that there were such laws. “But wherein can I be accused of this?” “Read this part of your own bill,” said the Queen, who showed herself an acute prosecutor. She then caused the following sentence to be read from his letter: “This fearful summons is directed against them [the two persons who were indicted] to make no doubt a preparative on a few, that a door may be opened to execute cruelty upon a greater multitude.” “Lo!” exclaimed the Queen exultingly; “what say you to that?” The eyes of the assembly were fixed on the panel, anxious to know what answer he would make to this charge. “Is it lawful for me, madam, to answer for myself?, or, shall I be condemned unheard?” “Say what you can; for I think you have enough to do.” “I will first then desire of Your Grace, madam, and of this most honorable audience, whether Your Grace knows not that the obstinate papists are deadly enemies to all such as profess the gospel of Jesus Christ, and that they most earnestly desire the extermination of them, and of the true doctrine that is taught within this realm?” The .Queen was silent: but the lords, with one voice, exclaimed, “God forbid, that ever the lives of the faithful, or yet the staying of the doctrine, stood in the power of the papists! for just experience has taught us what cruelty lies in their hearts.” “I must proceed then,” said the Reformer. “Seeing that I perceive that all will grant, that it were a barbarous thing to destroy such a multitude as profess the gospel of Christ within this realm, which oftener than once or twice they have attempted to do by force... they, by God and by His providence being disappointed, have invented more crafty and dangerous practices, to wit, to make the prince a party under color of law; and so what they could not do by open force, they shall perform by crafty deceit. For who thinks, my lords, that the insatiable cruelty of the papists (within this realm I mean) shall end in the murdering of these two brethren, now unjustly summoned, and more unjustly to be accused?... And therefore, madam, cast up, when you list, the Acts of your Parliament; I have offended nothing against them; for I accuse not, in my letter, Your Grace, nor yet your nature, of cruelty. But I affirm yet again, that the pestilent papists, who have inflamed Your Grace against those poor men at this present, are the sons of the devil, and therefore must obey the desires of their father, who has been a liar and manslayer from the beginning.” “You forget yourself! you are not now in the pulpit,” said one of the lords. “I am in the place where I am demanded of conscience to speak the truth; and therefore the truth I speak, impugn it whoso list.” He added, again addressing the Queen, that persons who appeared to be of honest, gentle, and meek natures, had often been corrupted by wicked counsel; that the papists who had her ear were dangerous counselors, and such her mother had found them to be.
Mary perceiving that nothing was to be gained by reasoning, began to upbraid him with his harsh behavior to her, at their last interview. He spake “fair enough” at present before the lords, she said, but on that occasion he caused her to shed many salt tears, and said, “he set not by her weeping”. This drew from him a vindication of his conduct, in which he gave a narration of that conference. After this, the secretary having spoken with the Queen, told Knox that he was at liberty to return home for that night. “I thank God and the Queen’s majesty,” said he.
When Knox had withdrawn, the judgment of the nobility was taken respecting his conduct. All of them, with the exception of the immediate dependents of the court, voted that he was not guilty of any breach of the laws. The secretary, who had assured the Queen of his condemnation, was enraged at this decision. He brought Her Majesty, who had retired before the vote, again into the room, and proceeded to call the votes a second time in her presence. This attempt to overawe them incensed the nobility. “What!” said they, “shall the laird of Lethington have power to control us? or, shall the presence of a woman cause us to offend God, and to condemn an innocent man, against our consciences?” With this they repeated their votes, absolving him from all offense, and praising his modest appearance and judicious defenses.
Mary was unable to conceal her mortification and displeasure, at this unexpected acquittal. When the Bishop of Ross, who had been the informer, gave his vote on the same side with the rest, she taunted him openly in the presence of the court. “Trouble not the child! I pray you trouble him not! for he is newly awakened out of his sleep. Why should not the old fool follow the footsteps of those that passed before him?”
The bishop replied coldly, that Her Majesty might easily know, that his vote was not influenced by partiality to the accused. “That night was neither dancing nor fiddling in the court; the madam was disappointed of her purpose, which was to have had John Knox in her will, by vote of her nobility.”