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FROM HIS ACQUITTAL, FROM A CHARGE OF TREASON, BY THE PRIVY COUNCIL, TO HIS BEING STRUCK WITH APOPLEXY The indignation of the Queen at the Reformer’s escape from punishment did not soon abate, and the effects of it fell both upon the courtiers who had voted for his exculpation, and upon those who had opposed it. The Earl of Moray was among the former; Maitland among the latter. In order to appease her, they again attempted to persuade him to condescend to some voluntary submission to her; and they engaged that all the punishment which should be inflicted on him would merely be to go within the walls of the castle, and return again to his own house. But he refused to make any such compliances, by which he would throw discredit on the judgment of the nobility who had acquitted him, and confess himself to have been a mover of sedition. Disappointed in this, they endeavored to injure him by whispers and detraction, circulating that he had no authority from his brethren for what he had done; and that he arrogated a papal and arbitrary power over the Scottish Church, issuing his letters, and exacting obedience to them. These charges were very groundless and injurious; for there never was perhaps any one who had as much influence, that was so careful in avoiding all appearance of assuming superiority over his brethren, or acting by his own authority, in matters of public and common concern.
In the General Assembly which met in the close of this year, he declined taking any share in the debates. When their principal business was settled, he requested liberty to speak on an affair which concerned himself. He stated what he had done in writing the late circular letter, the proceedings to which it had given rise, and the surmises which were still circulated to his prejudice; and insisted that the Church should now examine his conduct in that matter, and particularly that they should declare whether or not they had given him a commission to advertise the brethren, when he foresaw any danger threatening their religion, or any difficult case which required their advice. The courtiers strenuously opposed the decision of this question; but it was taken up, and the Assembly, by a great majority, found that he had been burdened with such a commission, and, in the advertisement which he had lately given, had not gone beyond the bounds of his commission.
Knox had remained a widower upwards of three years. But in March 1564, he contracted a second marriage with Margaret Stewart, daughter of Lord Ochiltree, a nobleman of amiable dispositions, who had been long familiar with our Reformer, and steadily adhered to him when he was deserted by his other friends. She continued to discharge the duties of a wife to him, with pious and affectionate assiduity, until the time of his death. The popish writers, who envied the honors of the Scottish Reformer, have represented this marriage as a proof of his great ambition; and, in the excess of their spleen, have ridiculously imputed to him the project of aiming to raise his progeny to the throne of Scotland; because the family of Ochiltree were of the blood royal! They are quite clear, too, that he gained the heart of the young lady by means of sorcery, and the assistance of the devil. But it seems, that powerful as his black-footed second was, he could not succeed in another attempt which he had previously made; for the same writers inform us, that he had paid his addresses to the Lady Fleming, eldest daughter to the Duke of Chastelherault, and was repulsed.
The country continued in a state of quietness during the year 1564; but the same jealousies still subsisted between the court and the Church. Her Majesty’s prejudices against the Reformed religion were unabated, and she maintained a correspondence with its sworn enemies on the Continent, which could not altogether escape the vigilance of her Protestant subjects.
The preachers, on their side, did not relax in their zealous warnings against popery, and concerning the dangers which they apprehended; they complained of the beggary unto which the greater part of their own number was reduced, and of the growing lukewarmness of the Protestant courtiers. The latter were uneasy under these reproaches, and, in concert with the Queen, were anxious to restrain the license of the pulpit. They began by addressing themselves in private to some of the most moderate and complying of the ministers, whom they gained over, by their persuasions, to a partial approbation of their measures. Having in so far succeeded, they ventured to propose the matter more publicly, and to request the sanction of the leading members of the General Assembly, Without designing to vindicate the latitude which might be taken by particular preachers at this time, I may say, in general, that a systematic attempt to restrain the liberty of speech in the pulpit (farther than the correction of any occurring excess might require) would have been a measure fraught with danger to the Protestant interest. The ministers were the most vigilant and incorrupt guardians of the public safety. Better it is to be awaked with rudeness, or even by a false alarm, than to be allowed to sleep on in the midst of dangers. Who would muzzle the mouth of the wakeful animal, who guards the house against thieves, because the inhabitants are frequently disturbed by his nocturnal vociferation, or substitute in his place, a “dumb dog, that cannot bark, sleeping, lying down, loving to slumber?”
Knox, the freedom and sharpness of whose censures the courtiers felt most deeply, was the person whom they chiefly wished to restrain; but it was no easy matter either to overawe or reason him into silence. In a conference which they demanded with the leading members of the General Assembly, in the month of June, this subject was discussed; and a long debate ensued between Maitland and Knox, on the principal points of his doctrine which gave offense to the court. This debate “admirably displays the talents and character of both the disputants; the acuteness of the former, embellished with learning, but prone to subtility; the vigorous understanding of the latter, delighting in bold sentiments, and superior to all fear”. The dispute has been recorded at large by Knox in his “History of the Reformation”. After giving so full a view of some former disputes in which he was engaged, I must content myself with a brief account of the leading heads of the present.
There were two things which Maitland found fault with in the Reformer’s public services; the mode in which he prayed for Her Majesty, and the doctrine which he taught as to the authority of princes and duty of subjects. Knox repeated his usual prayer for the Queen, and desired to know what was faulty in it. Maitland said, that he prayed for her conversion conditionally, thereby infusing doubts into the minds of the people as to the probability of that event; and he spoke of her as under the bondage of Satan, which was an irreverent expression, not fit to be applied to princes. The Reformer replied, that the conduct of Her Majesty gave just grounds to doubt of any change, and that his strongest expressions were warranted by the plain language of Scripture. “Prayers and tears,” we have sometimes been reminded, are the only arms which Christians ought to employ against violence. But those who have deprived them of other weapons, have usually envied them of these also; and if their prayers have not been smoothed down to the temper of their adversaries, so as to become mere compliments to princes, under color of an address to the Almighty, they have often been pronounced seditious and treasonable.
The second part of the debate related to Knox’s doctrine respecting the limited authority of princes, and the right of the people to control them in the abuse of their power. Under this head, the lawfulness of suppressing the Queen’s mass was discussed. Even here, Maitland was hardly pushed by his antagonist, and found it difficult to maintain his ground, after the resistance which he himself had made to the supreme powers, and the principles which he held in common with the Reformer. For it is to be observed, that both parties held that idolatry might justly be punished by death. Into this sentiment they were led in consequence of their having adopted the untenable opinion, that the judicial laws given to the Jewish nation were binding upon Christian nations, as to all offenses against the moral law.
In the course of the debate, Knox’s colleague, Craig, gave an account of an interesting dispute on the same question, which he had heard in the University of Bologna, in Italy; in which the judgments of the learned men, and the decision of the question, were strongly in favor of popular liberty, and the limited power of princes.
After long conference, Maitland insisted that the votes should be called, and that some order should be established for preventing the recurrence of the evils of which he had complained. But Knox protested against any decision of the question, which belonged to the whole General Assembly; and the sentiments of the members being divided, the conference broke up without coming to any determinate resolution.
In the month of August, Knox went, by appointment of the General Assembly, as visitor of the churches in Aberdeen and the north, where he remained six or seven weeks. The subsequent Assembly gave him a similar appointment to Fife and Perthshire.
Our Reformer’s predictions at the last meeting of Parliament were now fully realized. Another Parliament was held in the end of 1564, but nothing was done for securing the Protestant religion. The Queen’s marriage approached, and the lords demanded this as the condition of their consent; but she artfully evaded the demand, and accomplished her object. While she was arranging her plans for the marriage, she sent for the superintendents of Lothian, Glasgow, and Fife (for Knox was now inadmissible to her presence), and amused them with fair words. She was not yet persuaded, she said, of the truth of their religion, but she was willing to hear conference and reasoning on the subject: she was even content to attend the public sermons of some of them; and, “above all others, she would gladly hear the superintendent of Angus, for he was a mild and sweet-natured man, with true honesty and uprightness, Sir John Erskine of Dun”. But as soon as her marriage with Lord Damley was over, she told them in very plain and determined language, “Her Majesty neither will, nor may leave the religion wherein she has been nourished, and brought up” And there was no more word of hearing either sermon or conference.
The friendship between the Earl of Moray and the Reformer was renewed in the beginning of 1565. The latter was placed in a very delicate predicament, by the insurrection under Moray, and the other lords who opposed the Queen’s marriage. His father-in-law was one of the number.
They professed that the security of the Protestant religion was the principal ground of their taking arms; and they came to Edinburgh, to collect men to their standard. But whatever favor he might have for them, he kept himself clear from any engagement. If he had taken part in this unsuccessful revolt, we need not doubt that Her Majesty would have embraced the opportunity of punishing him for it, when his principal friends had fled the kingdom.
We find, in fact, that she immediately proceeded against him on a different, but far more slender pretext. The young King, who could be either papist, or Protestant as it suited, went sometimes to mass with the Queen, and sometimes attended the Reformed sermons. To silence the suspicions of his alienation from the Reformed religion, circulated by the insurgent lords, he, on the 19th of August, made a solemn appearance in St. Giles’ Church, sitting on a throne, which had been prepared for his reception. Knox preached that day on Isaiah 26:13, etc., and happened to prolong the service beyond his usual time. In one part of the sermon, he quoted these words of Scripture: “I will give children to be their princes, and babes shall rule over them: children are their oppressors, and women rule over them”; and in another part of it, he mentioned that God punished Ahab, because he did not correct his idolatrous wife Jezebel. Though no particular application was made by the preacher, the King applied these passages to himself and the Queen, and, returning to the palace in great wrath, refused to taste dinner. The papists, who had accompanied him to the church, inflamed his resentment and that of the Queen, by their representations.
That very afternoon Knox was taken from bed, and carried before the Privy Council. Some respectable inhabitants of the city, understanding his situation, accompanied him to the palace. He was told that he had offended the King, and must desist from preaching as long as their Majesties were in Edinburgh. He replied, that “he had spoken nothing but according to his text; and if the Church would command him to speak or abstain, he would obey, so far as the Word of God would permit him”.
Spottiswood says, that he not only stood to what he had said in the pulpit, but added, “That as the King, for” the Queen’s “pleasure, had gone to mass, and dishonored the Lord God, so should He in His justice make her the instrument of his overthrow. This speech,” continues the archbishop’s manuscript, “esteemed too bold at the time, came afterwards to be remembered, and was reckoned among other his prophetical sayings, which certainly were marvelous The Queen, enraged at this answer, burst forth into tears.”
The report of the inhibition laid upon the Reformer created great agitation in the city. His colleague, who was appointed to supply his place during the suspension, threatened to desist entirely from preaching. The town council met, and appointed a deputation to wait on their Majesties, and request the removal of the inhibition; and in a second meeting, on the same day, they came to an unanimous resolution, that they would “in no manner of way consent or grant that his mouth be closed”, but that he should be desired, “at his pleasure, and as God should move his heart, to proceed forward to true doctrine as before, which doctrine they would approve and abide at to their life’s end”.
It does not appear that he continued any time suspended from preaching.
For the King and Queen left Edinburgh before the next Sabbath, and the prohibition extended only to the time of their residence in the city. Upon their return, it is probable that the court judged it unadvisable to enforce an order which had already created much discontent, and might alienate the minds of the people still farther from the present administration.
Accordingly, we find him exercising his ministry in Edinburgh with the same boldness as formerly. Complaints were made to the Council of the manner in which he prayed for the exiled noblemen; but secretary Maitland, who had formerly found so much fault with his prayers, defended them on the present occasion, saying that he had heard them, and they were such as nobody could blame.
Christopher Goodman had officiated with much acceptance as minister of St. Andrews, since the year 1560; but he was prevailed on, by the solicitations of his friends in England, to return, about this time, to his native country. The commissioners from St. Andrews were instructed to petition the General Assembly, which met in December this year, that Knox should be translated from Edinburgh to their city. They claimed a right to him, as he had commenced his ministry among them; and they might think that the dissensions between the court and him would induce him to prefer a more retired situation. But the petition was refused.
This Assembly imposed on him several important services. He was commissioned to visit the churches in the south of Scotland, and appointed to write “a comfortable letter”, exhorting the ministers, exhorters, and readers, throughout the kingdom, to persevere in the discharge of their functions, which many of them were threatening to throw up, on account of the nonpayment of their stipends, and exciting the people among whom they labored to relieve their necessities. He had formerly received an appointment to draw up the “Form of Excommunication and Public Repentance”. At this time he was required to compose a “Treatise of Fasting” The Assembly, having taken into consideration the troubles of the country, and the dangers which threatened the whole Protestant interest, appointed a general fast to be kept through the kingdom. The form and order to be observed on that occasion they left to be drawn out by Knox and his colleague. As nothing had been hitherto published expressly on this subject, they were authorized to explain the duty, as well as state the reasons which at this time called for that solemn exercise. The whole was appointed to be ready before the time of the fast, to serve as a directory to ministers and people.
The treatise does credit to the compilers, both as to matter and form. It is written in a perspicuous and nervous style. In the grounds assigned for fasting, the critical state of all the Reformed Churches, the late decree of the Council of Trent for the extirpation of the Protestant name, the combination of the popish princes for carrying this into execution, and the barbarities exercised towards their brethren in different countries, are all held forth as a warning to the Protestants of Scotland, and urged as calls to repentance and prayer.
In fact, strong as their apprehensions were, the danger was nearer to themselves than they imagined. The most zealous and powerful Protestants being exiled, the Queen determined to carry into execution the design of which she had never lost sight; and while she amused the nation with proclamations against altering the received religion, and tantalized the ministers with offers of more adequate support, was preparing for the immediate restoration of the Roman Catholic worship. No means were left unattempted for gaining over the nobility to that religion. The King openly professed himself a papist, and officiated in some of their most superstitious rites. The Earls of Lennox, Cassilis, and Caithness, with Lords Montgomery and Seton, did the same. The friars were employed to preach at Holyrood House, and, to gain the favor of the people, endeavored to imitate the popular method of the Protestant preachers. In the beginning of February 1566, a message arrived from the Cardinal of Lorraine, with a copy of the league for the general extirpation of the Protestants, and instructions to obtain her subscription to it, and her consent to proceed to extremities against the exiled nobility. Mary scrupled not to set her hand to this league. The exiled noblemen were summoned to appear before the Parliament on the 12th of March. The lords of the Articles were chosen according to the Queen’s pleasure; the popish ecclesiastics were restored to their place in Parliament; the altars to be erected in St. Giles’ Church for the Roman Catholic worship were prepared.
But these measures, when ripe for execution, were blasted, in consequence of a secret engagement which the King had entered into with some of the Protestant nobles. The first effect produced by this engagement was the well known assassination of Rizzio, an unworthy favorite of the Queen, who was the principal instigator of the measures against the Protestant religion and the banished lords, and had incurred the jealousy of the King, the contempt of the nobility, and the hatred of the people. The removal of this minion from Her Majesty’s counsels and presence would have been a meritorious act; but the manner in which it was accomplished was marked with the barbarous manners of the age.
A complete change in the state of the court followed upon this: the popish counselors fled from the palace; the banished lords returned out of England; and the Parliament was prorogued, without accomplishing any of the objects for which it had been assembled. But the Queen soon persuaded the weak and uxorious king to desert the noblemen, retire with her to Dunbar, and emit a proclamation, disowning his consent to the late attempt, by which he exposed himself to the contempt of the nation, without regaining her affection. Having collected an army, she returned to Edinburgh, threatening to inflict the most exemplary vengeance on all who had been accessory to the murder of her secretary, and the indignity shown to her person. She found herself, however, unable to resume her plan for altering the received religion; and the Earl of Moray, with the other lords who had opposed her marriage, were soon after pardoned.
When the Queen came to Edinburgh, Knox left it, and retired to Kyle.
There is no reason to think that he was privy to the conspiracy which proved fatal to Rizzio. But it is probable that he had expressed his satisfaction at an event, which contributed to the safety of religion and the commonwealth, if not also his approbation of the conduct of the conspirators. At any rate, he was, on other grounds, sufficiently obnoxious to the Queen; and as her resentment, on the present occasion, was exceedingly inflamed, it was deemed prudent for him to withdraw.
Having, at last, “got quit” of one who had long been troublesome to her, the Queen was determined to prevent his return to the capital. We need not doubt that the town council and inhabitants, who had formerly refused to agree to his suspension from preaching for a short time, would exert themselves to obtain his restoration. But she resisted the importunities of all his friends. She was even unwilling that he should find a refuge within the kingdom, and wrote to a nobleman in the west country, with whom he resided, to banish him from his house. It does not appear that he returned to Edinburgh, or, at least, that he resumed his ministry in it, until the Queen was deprived of the government.
Being banished from his flock, he judged this a favorable opportunity for paying a visit to England. Parental affection, on the present occasion, increased the desire which he had long felt to accomplish this journey. His two sons had some time ago been sent by him into that kingdom, probably at the desire of their mother’s relations, to obtain their education in some of the English seminaries. Having obtained the Queen’s safe conduct, he applied to the General Assembly, which met in December 1566, for their liberty to remove. They readily granted it, upon condition of his returning against the time of their next meeting in June; and, at the same time, gave him a most ample and honorable testimonial, in which they describe him as “a true and faithful minister, in doctrine pure and sincere, in life and conversation in our sight inculpable”, and one who “has so fruitfully used that talent granted to him by the Eternal, to the advancement of the glory of His godly name, to the propagation of the kingdom of Jesus Christ, and edifying of them who heard his preaching, that of duty we most heartily praise His godly name, for that so great a benefit granted unto him for our utility and profit”.
The Reformer was charged with a letter from the Assembly, to the bishops and ministers of England, interceding for lenity to such of their brethren as scrupled to use the sacerdotal dress, enjoined by the laws. The controversy on that subject was at this time carried on with great warmth among the English clergy. It is not improbable, that the Assembly interfered in this business at the desire of Knox, to whom the composition of the letter was committed. He could not have forgotten the trouble which he himself had suffered on a similar ground, and he had a high regard for many of the scruplers. This interposition did not procure for them any relief. Even though the superior clergy had been more zealous to obtain it than they were, Elizabeth was inflexible, and would listen neither to the supplications of her bishops, nor the advice of her counselors. Knox’s good opinion of the English queen does not seem to have been improved by this visit.
There was one piece of public service which he performed, before undertaking his journey to England. On the 23rd of December, the Queen granted a commission to the Archbishop of St. Andrews, under the privy seal, restoring him to his ancient jurisdiction, which had been abolished, in 1560, by Act of Parliament. This step was taken, partly to prepare for the restoration of the popish religion, and partly to facilitate another dark design which was soon after disclosed. The Protestants could not fail to be both alarmed and enraged at this daring measure. The Reformer, moved both by his own zeal, and the advice of his brethren, addressed a circular letter to the principal Protestants in the kingdom, requesting their immediate advice on the measures most proper to be adopted on this occasion, and enclosing a copy of a proposed supplication to the Queen.
This letter discovers all the ardor of the writer’s spirit, called forth by such an alarming occurrence. After mentioning the late Acts for the provision of the ministry, by which the Queen attempted to blind them, he says: “How that any such assignation, or any promise made thereof, can stand in any stable assurance, when that Roman antichrist, by just laws once banished from this realm, shall be intrusted above us, we can no ways understand. Yea, farther, we cannot see what assurance can any within this realm, that hath professed the Lord Jesus, have of life, or inheritance, if the head of that odious beast be cured among us.” Having enforced his request, he adds: “As from the beginning we have neither spared substance nor life, so mind we not to faint unto the end, to maintain the same, so long as we can find the concurrence of brethren; of whom (as God forbid), if we be destitute, yet are we determined never to be subject to the Roman antichrist, neither yet to his usurped tyranny; but when we can do no farther to suppress that odious beast, we mind to seal it with our blood to our posterity, that the bright knowledge of Jesus Christ hath banished that man of sin, and his venomous doctrine, from our hearts and consciences. Let this our letter and request bear witness before God, before His Church, before the world, and before your own consciences.” The supplication of the General Assembly to the lords of the Privy Council, on the same subject, also bears marks of the Reformer’s pen.
During the time that Knox was in England, that tragedy, so well known in Scottish history, was acted, which led to a complete revolution in the government of the kingdom, and, contrary to the designs of the actors, threw the power solely into the hands of the Protestants. Mary’s affection for her husband, which had cooled soon after their marriage, was, from the time of Rizzio’s assassination, converted into a fixed hatred, which she was at little pains to conceal. In proportion as her mind was alienated from the King, the unprincipled Earl of Bothwell grew in her favor. He engrossed the whole management of public affairs, and was treated by Her Majesty with every mark of regard and affection. In these circumstances, the neglected, unhappy King was decoyed to Edinburgh, lodged in a solitary dwelling at the extremity of the city, and murdered on the night of 9th February 1567; the house in which he lay being blown up with gunpowder.
It would be impertinent to enter here into the controversy respecting the authors of this murder, which has been agitated with uncommon keenness, from that day to the present time. The accusation of the Earl of Moray as a party to the deed, which was at first circulated with the evident design of turning away the public mind from the real perpetrators, insinuated, and afterwards brought forward directly in the conference at York, by way of retortion of the charge exhibited by him against the Queen, and still kept up by some of the zealous partizans of Mary, is destitute of all proof, and utterly incredible. That Bothwell was the prime contriver and agent in the murder cannot admit of a doubt with any impartial and reasonable inquirer.
And that Mary was privy, and accessory to it, by permission and approbation, there is, I think, all the evidence, moral and legal, which could reasonably be expected in a case of the kind. The whole of her behavior towards the King, from the time that she brought him from Glasgow till she left him on the fatal night; the remissness which she discovered in inquiring into the murder; the shameful manner in which the farce of Bothwell’s trial was conducted; and the glaring act (which struck with horror the whole of Europe, and even her own friends) of taking to her bed, with indecent haste, the man who was stigmatized as the murderer of her husband, afford the strongest presumption of her guilt; and when taken in connection with the direct evidence arising from letters and depositions, would have been sufficient long ago to shut the mouths of any but the defenders of Mary Queen of Scots.
Knox was absent from Edinburgh at the time of the Queen’s marriage with Bothwell; but his colleague ably supported the honor of his place and order on that occasion, when the whole nobility of Scotland observed a passive and disgraceful silence. Being required by both the parties to publish the banns, he, after considerable reluctance, agreed, by the advice of his session, to make known the purpose; but he at the same time protested from the pulpit, on three several days, and took heaven and earth to witness, that he abhorred and detested the intended marriage as unlawful and scandalous, and solemnly charged the nobility to use their influence to prevent the Queen from taking a step, which would cover her with infamy. Being called before the Council, and accused of having exceeded the bounds of his commission, he boldly replied, that the bounds of his commission were the Word of God, good laws, and natural reason, to all of which the proposed marriage was contrary. And Bothwell being present, he charged him with the crime of adultery, the precipitancy with which the process of divorce had been carried through, the suspicions entertained of collusion between him and his wife, of his having murdered the King, and ravished the Queen, all of which would be confirmed, if they carried their purpose into execution.
The events which followed in rapid succession upon this infamous marriage; the confederation of the nobility for revenging the King’s death, and preserving the person of the infant prince; the flight of Bothwell; the surrender and imprisonment of Mary; her resignation of the government; the coronation of her son; and the appointment of the Earl of Moray as regent during his minority, are all well known to the readers of Scottish history.
Knox seems to have returned to his charge at the time that the Queen fled with Bothwell to Dunbar. He was present in the General Assembly which met at Edinburgh on the 25th of June, and was delegated by them to go to the west country, and endeavored to persuade the Hamiltons, and others who still stood aloof from the confederated lords, to join with them in settling the distracted affairs of the country, and to attend a general convention of the delegates of the Churches, to be held on the 20th of July following. He was unsuccessful in this negotiation. But the convention was held, and the nobles, barons, and other commissioners, who were present, subscribed a number of articles, with reference to religion and the state of the nation.
On the 29th of July, the Reformer preached the sermon at the coronation of King James VI. in the parish church of Stirling. He objected to the ceremony of unction, as a Jewish rite, abused under the papacy; but it was deemed inexpedient to depart from the accustomed ceremonial on the present occasion. It was therefore performed by the Bishop of Orkney, the superintendents of Lothian and Angus assisting him to place the crown on the King’s head. After the coronation, Knox, along with some others, took instruments, and craved extracts of the proceedings.
When the Queen was confined by the lords in the castle of Loch Leven, they had not resolved in what manner they should dispose of her person for the future. Some proposed that she should be allowed to leave the kingdom; some that she should be imprisoned during life; while others insisted that she ought to suffer capital punishment. Of this last opinion was Knox, with almost all the ministers, and the great body of the people.
The chief ground upon which they insisted for this, was not her maladministration in the government, or the mere safety and peace of the commonwealth; which were the reasons upon which the Parliament of England, in the following century, proceeded to the execution of her grandson. But they grounded their opinion upon the personal crimes with which Mary was charged. Murder and adultery, they reasoned, were crimes to which the punishment of death was allotted by the law of God, and of nations. From this penalty persons of no rank could plead exemption. The ordinary forms of judicial procedure, indeed, made no provision for the trial of a supreme magistrate for these crimes; because the laws did not suppose that such enormous offenses would be committed by them. But extraordinary cases required extraordinary remedies; and new offenses gave birth to new laws. There were examples in Scripture of the capital punishment of princes, and precedents for it in the history of their own Country.
Upon these grounds, Knox scrupled not publicly to maintain, that the estates of the kingdom ought to bring Mary to a trial, and if she was found guilty of the murder of her husband, and an adulterous connection with Bothwell, that She ought to be put to death. Throkmorton, the English ambassador, had a conference with him, with the view of mitigating the rigor of this judgment; but though he acquiesced in the resolution adopted by the lords to detain her in prison, he retained his sentiment, and, after the civil war was kindled by her escape, repeatedly said, that he considered the nation as suffering for their criminal lenity.
The Earl of Moray, being established in the regency, directed his attention, at an early period, to the settlement of religion, and the redressing of the principal grievances of which the Church had long complained. A Parliament being summoned to meet in the middle of December, he, with the advice of the Privy Council, previously nominated certain barons, and commissioners of boroughs, to consult upon and digest such overtures as were proper to be laid before that assembly. With these he joined Knox, and other four ministers, to assist in matters which related to the Church.
This committee met in the beginning of December, and sat until the opening of the Parliament. The record of their proceedings, both as to civil and ecclesiastical affairs, is preserved; and, as many of their propositions were not adopted by the Parliament, it is valuable as a declaration of the sentiments of a number of the most able men in the kingdom.
On the 15th of December, Knox preached at the opening of the Parliament, and exhorted them to begin with the affairs of religion, in which case they would find better success in their other business. The Parliament ratified all the Acts which had been passed, in 1560, in favor of the Protestant religion, and against popery. New statutes of a similar kind were added. It was provided, that no prince should afterwards be admitted to the exercise of authority in the kingdom, without taking an oath to maintain the Protestant religion; and that none but Protestants should be admitted to any office, not hereditary nor held for life.
The ecclesiastical jurisdiction, exercised by the different assemblies of the Church, was formally ratified, and commissioners appointed to define more exactly the causes which properly came within the sphere of their judgment. The thirds of benefices were appointed to be paid immediately to collectors appointed by the Church, who were to account to the exchequer for the overplus after paying the stipends of the ministers. And the funds of provostries, prebendaries, and chaplainries were appropriated to maintain bursars in colleges.
In the Act ratifying the jurisdiction of the Church, Knox was appointed one of the commissioners for drawing out the particular points which pertained to ecclesiastical jurisdiction, to be presented to next meeting of Parliament. The General Assembly, which met about the same time, gave him a commission, along with some others, to act for them in this matter, and, in general, to consult with the Regent and Council on such ecclesiastical questions as occurred after the dissolution of that Assembly.
He was also appointed to assist the superintendent of Lothian in his visitation, and afterwards to visit the Churches in Kyle, Carrick, and Cunningham. During the regency of Moray, there were no jars between the Church and the court, nor any of those unpleasant complaints which had been made at every meeting of the General Assembly before that time, and which were afterwards renewed. All the grievances of which they complained were not, indeed, redressed; and the provision made by law was still inadequate for the support of such an ecclesiastical establishment as the nation required, including the seminaries of education. But the Regent not only received the addresses of the General Assemblies in a “manner very different from that to which they had been accustomed”; but showed a disposition to grant their petitions, as far as was in his power. It was chiefly through his influence that the favorable arrangement concerning the thirds of benefices was made; and he endeavored, though unsuccessfully, to obtain the consent of Parliament to the dissolution of the prelacies, and the appropriation of their revenues to the common fund of the Church.
Our Reformer had now reached that point from which he could take a calm and deliberate view of the dangerous and bustling scene through which he had passed, and the termination to which the arduous struggle in which he had been so long engaged, was now happily brought. Superstition and ignorance were overthrown and dispelled; true religion was established; the supreme government of the nation was in the hands of one in whose wisdom and integrity he had the greatest confidence; the Church was freed from many of those grievances under which she had hitherto groaned, and enjoyed the prospect of obtaining the redress of such as still remained.
The work on which his heart had been so ardently set for such a long period, and for the success of which he had so often trembled, had prospered beyond his utmost expectation. He now congratulated himself on being released from all burden of public affairs, and spending the remainder of his days in religious meditation, and preparation for that event of which his increasing infirmities admonished him. He even secretly cherished the wish of resigning his charge in Edinburgh, and retiring to that privacy, from which he had been drawn at the commencement of the Scottish Reformation.
But “the way of man is not in himself”. Providence had allotted to him further trials of a public nature: he was yet to see the security of the Reformed religion endangered, and the country involved in another civil war, even more distressing than the former, in as much as the principal persons on each side were professed Protestants. From the time that the government was transferred from Mary to her infant son, and the Earl of Moray appointed to the regency, a number of the nobility, with the house of Hamilton at their head, had stood aloof, and, from other motives as much as attachment to the Queen, had refused to acknowledge the authority of the Regent. Upon the escape of the Queen from imprisonment, they collected to her standard, and avowed their design to restore her to the full exercise of the royal authority. In consequence of the defeat at Langside, 2 Mary was driven from the kingdom, and her party broken; and the Regent, by his vigorous measures, reduced the whole kingdom to a state of obedience to the King’s authority. Despairing to accomplish their object during his life, the partisans of Mary resolved to cut him off by private means.
Hamilton of Bothwellhaugh, a nephew of the Archbishop of St. Andrews, undertook to perpetrate the deed. He was one of the prisoners taken at the battle of Langside, and after being arraigned, condemned, and brought out to execution, had his life given him by the Regent. Sometime after he was set at liberty along with the other prisoners. It is said that he was actuated by revenge, on account of an injury which he had received, by detaining one of his forfeited estates, or by the cruel manner in which his wife had been dispossessed of it. Whether this was really the case, or whether it was afterwards circulated to diminish the odium of his crime, and turn it away from his party, cannot perhaps be certainly determined. But it does not appear, that he ever suffered anything from the Regent which can be pleaded as an excuse for his bursting the ties of gratitude by which he was bound to him. Having concerted the design with some of the leading persons of his faction, who incited him to carry it into execution, he followed the Regent in his progress to Glasgow, Stirling, and Linlithgow; and finding an opportunity in the last of these places, shot him through the body with a musket-ball. The wound proved mortal, and the Regent died on the same evening. While some of his friends, who stood round his bed, lamented the excessive lenity which he had shown to his enemies, and, in particular, to his murderer, he replied, with a truly noble and Christian spirit, that nothing would make him repent an act of clemency.
The consternation which is usually produced by the fall of a distinguished leader was absorbed in the deep distress which the tidings of the Regent’s murder spread through the nation. The common people, who had experienced the beneficial effects of his short administration, to a degree altogether unprecedented in the country, felt as if each had lost a father, and loudly demanded vengeance against the authors of the parricide. Many who had envied or hated him during his life were now forward to do justice to his virtues. Those who had not been able to conceal their satisfaction on the first intelligence of his death, became ashamed of the indecent exultation which they had imprudently expressed. The Hamiltons were anxious to clear themselves from the imputation of a crime which they saw to be universally detested. The murderer was dismissed by them, and was glad to conceal his ignominy, by condemning himself to perpetual banishment. The only one of his crimes for which the Archbishop of St.
Andrews afterwards expressed contrition, before his execution, was his accession to the murder of the Regent. Nor were these feelings confined to Scotland; the sensation was general through England, and the expressions of grief and condolence from that country evinced the uncommon esteem in which he was held by all ranks.
It was the happiness of the Regent, that, in his early years, he fell into the company of men who cultivated his vigorous understanding, gave a proper direction to his activity, and instilled into his mind the principles of religion and virtue. His early adoption of the Reformed sentiments, the steadiness with which he adhered to them, the uniform correctness of his morals, his integrity, sagacity, and enterprising but cool courage, soon placed him in the first rank among those who embarked in the struggle for the reformation of religion, and maintenance of national liberties, and secured to him their cordial and unbounded confidence. The honors which Queen Mary conferred on him were not too great for the services which he rendered to her; and had she continued to trust him with the direction of her counsels, those measures would have been avoided which precipitated her ruin. He was repeatedly placed in a situation which would have tempted the ambition of others, less qualified, to aspire to the supreme authority; yet he showed no disposition to grasp at this. When he accepted the regency, it was in compliance with the decided and uncorrupted voice of the acting majority in the nation, pointing him out as the fittest person for occupying that high station. His conduct, in one of the most delicate and embarrassing situations in which a governor was ever placed, showed that his countrymen were not mistaken in their choice. He united, in no ordinary degree, those qualities which are rarely combined in the same individual, and which make up the character of an accomplished prince. Excelling equally in the arts of war and peace, he reduced the country to universal obedience to the King’s authority by his military skill and valor, and preserved it in a state of tranquillity and order by the wise and impartial administration of justice. Successful in all his warlike enterprises, he never once tarnished the laurels of victory by cruelty, or unnecessary rigor to the vanquished. He knew how to maintain the authority of the laws, and bridle the licentious, by salutary severity, and at the same time to temper the rigor of justice by the interposition of mercy.
He used to sit personally in the courts of judicature, and exerted himself to obtain for all the subjects an easy and expeditious decision of litigated causes. His uncommon liberality to his friends, to the learned, and to his servants, and his unostentatious charity to the poor, have been celebrated by one who had the best opportunities of becoming acquainted with them.
Nor has the breath of calumny, which has labored in many ways to blast his reputation, ever insinuated that he oppressed or burdened the public during his regency, in order to enrich himself or his family. Add to all, his exemplary piety, the only source of genuine virtue. His family was so regulated as to resemble a Church rather than a court. Not a profane nor lewd word was to be heard from any of his domestics. Besides the ordinary exercise of devotion, a chapter of the Bible was always read at dinner and supper; and it was his custom, on such occasions, to require his chaplain, or some other learned men (of whom he had always a number about him) to give their opinion upon the passage, for his own instruction and that of his family. “A man truly good,” says Archbishop Spottiswood, “and worthy to be ranked amongst the best governors that this kingdom hath enjoyed, and, therefore, to this day honored with the title of the Good Regent”.
This may be deemed, by some readers, an improper digression from the subject of this work. But even though it had been still less connected with it than it is, though there had not subsisted that intimate familiarity and co-operation between the Regent and the Reformer, I could scarcely have denied myself the satisfaction of paying a small tribute to the memory of one of the greatest men of his age, who has been traduced and vilified in a most unjustifiable and wanton manner in modern times, and whose character has been drawn with unfavorable, and, in my opinion, with unfair colors, by the most moderate of our historians. All that I have attempted is to sketch the most prominent features of his character. That he was faultless, I am far from wishing to insinuate; but the principal charges which have been brought against him, I consider as either irrelevant, or unproved, or greatly exaggerated. That his exaltation to the highest dignity in the state which a subject could enjoy, produced no unfavorable change on his behavior, is what none can be prepared to affirm; but I have not seen the contrary established. The confidence which he reposed in his friends was great, and he was inclined to be biased by their advice; but that he became the dupe of worthless favorites, and fell by listening to their flattery, and refusing to hearken to wholesome advice, and not by the treachery of his friends, and the malice of his implacable enemies, are assertions which have been repeated upon the authority of a single witness, are unsupported by facts, and capable of being disproved.
The Regent died on the evening of Saturday; and the intelligence of his murder was conveyed early next morning to Edinburgh. It is impossible to describe the anguish which the Reformer felt on this occasion. A cordial and intimate friendship had long subsisted between them. Of all the Scottish nobility, he placed the greatest confidence in Moray’s attachment to religion; and his conduct after his elevation to the regency had served to heighten the good opinion which he formerly entertained of him. He looked upon his death as the greatest calamity which could befall the nation, and the forerunner of other evils. When the shock produced by the melancholy tidings had subsided, the first thought that rushed into his mind was, that he had himself been the instrument of obtaining, from his clemency, a pardon to the man who had become his murderer: a thought which naturally produced a very different impression on him from what it did on the dying Regent.
In his sermon that day, he introduced the subject; and after saying, that God in His great mercy raised up godly rulers, and took them away in His displeasure on account of the sins of a nation, he thus poured out the sorrows of his heart in an address to God. “O Lord, in what misery and confusion found he this realm! To what rest and quietness now by his labors suddenly he brought the same, all estates, but especially the poor commons, can witness. Thy image, O Lord, did so clearly shine in that personage, that the devil, and the wicked to whom he is prince, could not abide it; and so to punish our sins and our ingratitude (who did not rightly esteem so precious a gift), Thou hast permitted him to fall, to our great grief, in the hands of cruel and traitorous murderers. He is at rest, O Lord: we are left in extreme misery.”
Only a few days before this, when the murder was fully concerted, the abbot of Kilwinning applied to Knox to intercede with the Regent in behalf of his kinsmen, who were confined for practicing against the government.
He signified his readiness to do all in his power for the relief of any of that family who were willing to own the authority of the King and Regent; but he intreated him not to abuse him, by employing his services, if any mischief were intended against the Regent; for “I protest,” said he, “before God, who is the only witness now betwixt us, that if there be any thing attempted, by any of that surname, against the person of that man, in that case, I discharge myself to you and them for ever.” After the assassination, the abbot sent to desire another interview; but Knox refused to see him, and desired the messenger to say to him, “I have not now the Regent to make suit unto for the Hamiltons”.
At this time there was handed about a fabricated account of a pretended conference held by the late regent with Lord Lindsay, Wishart of Pittarrow, the tutor of Pitcur, James Macgill, and Knox, in which they were represented as advising him to set aside the young King, and place the crown on his own head. The modes of expression peculiar to each of the persons were carefully imitated in the speeches put into their mouths, to give it the greater air of credibility. The design of it evidently was to lessen the odium of the murder, and the veneration of the people for the memory of Moray; but it was universally regarded as an impudent and gross forgery. Its fabricator was Thomas Maitland, a young man of talents, but corrupted by his brother the secretary, who before this had engaged himself to the Queen’s party, and was suspected of having a deep hand in the plot for cutting off the Regent.
On the day on which the weekly conference was held in Edinburgh, the same person slipped into the pulpit a schedule, containing words to this effect, “Take up now the man whom you accounted another god, and consider the end to which his ambition hath brought him”. Knox, whose turn it was to preach that day, took up the paper on entering the pulpit, supposing it to be a note requesting the prayers of the congregation for a sick person, and, having read it, laid it aside without any apparent emotion. But towards the conclusion of his sermon, having deplored the loss which the Church and commonwealth had recently sustained, and declared the account of the conference, which had been circulated, to be false and calumnious, he said that there were persons who rejoiced at the treasonable murder, and scrupled not to make it the subject of their merriment; particularly there was one present who had thrown in a writing exulting over an event which was the cause of grief to all good men. “That wicked man, whosoever he be, shall not go unpunished, and shall die where there shall be none to lament him.” Maitland, when he went home, said to his sister, that the preacher was raving, when he spake in such a manner of a person who was unknown to him; but she understanding that her brother had written the line, reproved him, saying with tears, that none of that man’s denunciations were wont to prove idle. Spottiswood (who had his information personally from the mouth of that lady) says, that Maitland died in Italy, “having no known person to attend him”.
Upon Tuesday the 14th of February, the Regent’s corpse was brought from the palace of Holyrood House, and interred in the south aisle of the collegiate church of St. Giles. Before the funeral, Knox preached a sermon on these words, “Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord”. Three thousand persons were dissolved in tears before him, while he described the Regent’s virtues, and bewailed his loss. Buchanan paid his tribute to the memory of the deceased, by writing the inscription placed on his monument, with that expressive simplicity and brevity which are dictated by genuine grief. A convention of the nobility was held after the funeral, at which it was resolved to avenge his death; but different opinions were entertained as to the mode of doing this, and the commons complained loudly of the remissness with which it was carried into execution. The General Assembly, at their first meeting, testified their detestation of the crime, by ordering the assassin to be publicly excommunicated in all the chief towns of the kingdom, and appointed the same process to be used against all who should afterwards be convicted of accession to the conspiracy.
During the sitting of the convention, Knox received a number of letters from his acquaintances in England, expressive of their high regard for the character of the Regent, and their sorrow at so grievous a loss. One of his correspondents, Dr. Laurence Humphrey, urged him to write a memoir of the deceased. Had he done this, he would no doubt, from his intimate acquaintance with him, have communicated a number of particulars of which we must now be content to remain ignorant. But though he had been disposed to undertake this task, the state of his health must have prevented its execution.
The grief which he indulged, in consequence of this mournful event, and the confusions which followed it, preyed upon his spirits, and injured his health. In the month of October, he had a stroke of apoplexy, which affected his speech to a considerable degree. Upon this occasion, his enemies exulted, and circulated the most exaggerated tales. The report ran through England as well as Scotland, that John Knox would never preach nor speak more; that his face was turned into his neck; that he was become the most deformed creature ever seen; that he was actually dead — a most unequivocal expression of the high consideration in which he was held, which our Reformer received in common with some other great men of his age.