John Knox Biography
KNOX, John (1505 or 1513–72). The great Scottish reformer. He was born at Giffordgate, Haddington, or at Morham, the district adjoining, about 25 miles east of Edinburgh. He received his early education at the grammar school of Haddington. If he was born in 1505 and went to the University of Glasgow in 1522, where records show a John Knox matriculated, he was for a short time a pupil there of John Major (q.v.). It is only certain that he was not a graduate of either Glasgow or St. Andrews. He is mentioned as apostolical notary in the diocese of St. Andrews in March, 1543. In 1544 he was living as a tutor in Longniddry House, 3 miles west of Haddington. Thereafter he emerges from obscurity. He must already have embraced Protestantism, for he now appears as the companion of George Wishart (q.v.). While the latter prosecuted his career as a preacher in East Lothian, Knox waited upon him, bearing before him, he tells us, a "twa-handed sword." He was ready to defend his friend at the peril of his own life, but the latter dismissed him. After Wishart's seizure and death (March, 1546), he returned to the charge of his pupils. On May 29, 1546, Cardinal Beaton (q.v.) was murdered in his castle of St. Andrews in revenge for Wishart's execution. The castle was taken possession of by the band which had accomplished the audacious design and became the temporary stronghold of the reforming interest. Knox took refuge there with his two pupils. Here his gifts as a preacher were first recognized, and the parish church of St. Andrews resounded with his voice in denunciation of "popery." His career at this time, however, was cut short by the surrender of the fortress (July 31, 1547) and his capture. For 19 months he was a galley slave and during the winter of 1547–48 was kept at Nantes. At the request of Edward VI he and others were released in February, 1549, and allowed to depart for England, where he resided till early in 1554. He was appointed one of Edward VI's chaplains and lived on terms of intimate intercourse with Cranmer and other English reformers. He had considerable influence on the course of the English Reformation, especially in regard to the liberal changes introduced into the service and Prayer Book of the Church of England at the close of Edward's reign. He preached in a number of places—at Berwick, on the Scottish border (1549–51), Newcastle (1551–53), and in London and the south. Probably in 1553 he married Margery Bowes. The accession of Mary drove him and others to the Continent. He settled temporarily at Dieppe (January, 1554), whence he wrote A Godly Letter Sent to the Faithful in London, Newcastle, and Berwick, and a pamphlet, A Faithful Admonition to the Professors of God's Faith in England. He went to Geneva and then to Frankfort-on-the-Main, where he participated in the "Frankfort troubles," certain disputes as to the use of King Edward's service book in the congregation of English Protestants there. In 1555 he visited Scotland and remained there for some months. Then he accepted a call from the English Church at Geneva and was settled as pastor for nearly three years—among the quietest and probably the happiest years of his life. Thence he issued his famous First Blast of the Trumpet against the Monstrous Regiment of Women (i.e., Queen Mary of England, Mary of Guise, and her daughter, Mary Stuart). Queen Elizabeth, taking offense at this work, refused to allow him to pass through England when recalled to Scotland.
Knox returned to Scotland in May, 1559, and entered upon his triumphant course as a reformer. Political necessities had driven the Queen Regent (Mary of Guise, q.v.) to temporize with the "lords of the congregation" or the reforming nobles. Having somewhat reestablished her power, she sought to withdraw her concessions (May, 1559); but the reforming impulse had gathered a strength that could no longer be resisted. The heads of the party, assembling at Dundee, under Erskine of Dun, proceeded to Perth. There the pent-up enthusiasm which had been long collecting was roused into furious action by a sermon of Knox on the idolatry of the mass and of image worship (July, 1559). A riot ensued. The "rascal multitude," as Knox himself called them, broke all bounds and destroyed the churches and monasteries. Similar disturbances followed at Stirling, Lindores, St. Andrews, and elsewhere. The flame of religious revolution was kindled throughout the country, aggravating the civil war already raging. At length the assistance of Elizabeth and the death of the Queen Regent (June, 1560) brought matters to a crisis; a truce was proclaimed, and a free Parliament summoned to settle differences. The result of the Parliament, which met in August, 1560, was the overthrow of the old religion, and the establishment of the Reformed Kirk in Scotland. In all this Knox was not only an active agent, but the agent above all others. The original Confession of Faith of the Reformed Kirk and the First Book of Discipline bear the impress of his mind.
The arrival of the youthful Queen Mary, in the course of 1561, brought many forebodings to the reformer; he apprehended dangers to the reformed cause from her character and her well-known devotion to the Catholic church. The reformer's apprehensions scarcely permitted him to be a fair, certainly not a tolerant, judge of Mary's conduct. She summoned him into her presence, and Knox relates, with a somewhat harsh bitterness, his several interviews with her. At length he came to an open rupture with the Queen's party, including Murray and Maitland, and many of his former friends. He took up an attitude of unyielding opposition to the court and in his sermons and prayers indulged freely in the expression of his feelings. The result was his temporary alienation from the more moderate Protestant party, who tried to govern the country in the Queen's name, and for a while, from 1563 to 1565, he retired into comparative privacy. In 1560 his first wife had died, and on Palm Sunday, 1564, he married Margaret Stewart, daughter of Lord Stewart of Ochiltree, a girl of 16.
The rapid series of events which followed Mary's marriage with Darnley served once more to bring Knox into the field. He was reconciled with Murray and strongly abetted him in all his schemes of policy during his regency. Further reforms were effected by the Parliament which convened under his sway in the close of 1567. Some provision, although still an imperfect one, was made for the support of the Protestant clergy. Knox seemed at length to see his great work accomplished and is said to have entertained the idea of retiring to Geneva. But the bright prospect on which he gazed for a little was soon overcast—Murray's assassination (Jan. 23, 1570) and the confusion and discord which sprang out of it plunged the reformer into profound grief. He once more became an object of suspicion and hostility to the dominant nobles, and misunderstandings even sprang up between him and some of his brethren in the General Assembly. He retired to St. Andrews (1571) for a while, to escape the danger of assassination, with which he had been threatened. There, although suffering from extreme debility, he roused himself to preach once more, and, in the parish church where he had begun his ministry, made his voice heard again with something of its old power. Assisted by his servant, the "good, godly Richard Ballenden," into the pulpit, "he behoved to lean upon it at his first entry; but ere he was done with his sermon, he was so active and vigorous that he was lyke to ding the pulpit in blads and flie out of it." In the end of 1572 he returned to Edinburgh to die; his strength was exhausted; he was "weary of the world," he said; and on November 24 he died.
Knox's character was distinguished by firmness and decision, and a plain, severely harsh sense of reality. He was a man of strong and even stern convictions, and he felt no scruples and recognized no dangers in carrying out his aims. He was shrewd, penetrating, inevitable in his perceptions and purposes, and his language is always plain, homely, and often harsh. He had learned, he himself says, "to call wickedness by its own terms—a fig, a fig; a spade, a spade." Above all, he was fearless; nothing daunted him; his spirit rose high in the midst of danger. In Scotland Knox was the leading spirit in the Reformation. To him, above all others, may be attributed this result. His violent methods and his mediæval type of thought are natural in a man of that age with his temperament.
Knox wrote his own biography in his History of the Reformation of Religioun in the Realme of Scotland, begun about 1560 and covering the history as far as 1564. The fifth book was compiled from his notes after his death. The first three books were printed in London in 1584; the entire five in 1664; the "modernized" edition by Guthrie (London, 1898) is abridged and incomplete. His Works have been well edited by Laing (Edinburgh, 1846–64), and his life written by M'Crie (Edinburgh, 1811; 7th ed., 1872). Both Laing and M'Crie give full bibliographical data concerning his writings.
The New International Encyclopaedia, Vol. XIII (New York: Dodd, Mead & Co., 1920) 311-312.