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Chapter 14


KNOX AND QUEEN MARY, 1561


In discussing the Book of Discipline, that great constructive effort towards the remaking of Scotland, we left Knox at the time of the death of his first wife. On December 20, 1560, he was one of some six ministers who, with more numerous lay representatives of districts, sat in the first General Assembly. They selected some new preachers, and decided that the church of Restalrig should be destroyed as a monument of idolatry. A fragment of it is standing yet, enclosing tombs of the wild Logans of Restalrig.

The Assembly passed an Act against lawless love, and invited the Estates and Privy Council to "use sharp punishment" against some "idolaters," including Eglintoun, Cassilis, and Quentin Kennedy, Abbot of Crosraguel, who disputed later against Knox, the Laird of Gala (a Scott) and others.

In January 1561 a Convention of nobles and lairds at Edinburgh perused the Book of Discipline, and some signed it, platonically, while there was a dispute between the preachers and certain Catholics, including Lesley, later Bishop of Ross, an historian, but no better than a shifty and dangerous partisan of Mary Stuart. The Lord James was selected as an envoy to Mary, in France. He was bidden to refuse her even the private performance of the rites of her faith, but declined to go to that extremity; the question smouldered through five years. Randolph expected "a mad world" on Mary's return; he was not disappointed.

Meanwhile the Catholic Earls of the North, of whom Huntly was the fickle leader, with Bothwell, "come to work what mischief he can," are accused by Knox of a design to seize Edinburgh, before the Parliament in May 1561. Nothing was done, but there was a very violent Robin Hood riot; the magistrates were besieged and bullied, Knox declined to ask for the pardon of the brawlers, and, after excursions and alarms, "the whole multitude was excommunicate" until they appeased the Kirk. They may have borne the spiritual censure very unconcernedly.

The Catholic Earls now sent Lesley to get Mary's ear before the Lord James could reach her. Lesley arrived on April 14, with the offer to raise 20,000 men, if Mary would land in Huntly's region. They would restore the Mass in their bounds, and Mary would be convoyed by Captain Cullen, a kinsman of Huntly, and already mentioned as the Captain of the Guards after Riccio's murder.

It is said by Lesley that Mary had received, from the Regent, her mother, a description of the nobles of Scotland. If so, she knew Huntly for the ambitious traitor he was, a man peculiarly perfidious and self-seeking, with a son who might be thrust on her as a husband, if once she were in Huntly's hands. The Queen knew that he had forsaken her mother's cause; knew, perhaps, of his old attempt to betray Scotland to England, and she was aware that no northern Earl had raised his banner to defend the Church. She, therefore, came to no agreement with Lesley, but confided more in the Lord James, who arrived on the following day. Mary knew her brother's character fairly well, and, if Lesley says with truth that he now asked for, and was promised, the earldom of Moray, the omen was evil for Huntly, who practically held the lands. {191a} A bargain, on this showing, was initiated. Lord James was to have the earldom, and he got it; Mary was to have his support.

Much has been said about Lord James's betrayal to Throckmorton of Mary's intentions, as revealed by her to himself. But what Lord James said to Throckmorton amounts to very little. I am not certain that, both in Paris with Throckmorton, and in London with Elizabeth and Cecil, he did not moot his plan for friendship between Mary and Elizabeth, and Elizabeth's recognition of Mary's rights as her heir. {191b} Lord James proposed all this to Elizabeth in a letter of August 6, 1561. {191c} He had certainly discussed this admirable scheme with Lord Robert Dudley at Court, in May 1561, on his return from France. {191d} Nothing could be more statesmanlike and less treacherous.

Meanwhile (May 27, 1561) the brethren presented a supplication to the Parliament, with clauses, which, if conceded, would have secured the stipends of the preachers. The prayers were granted, in promise, and a great deal of church wrecking was conscientiously done; the Lord James, on his return, paid particular attention to idolatry in his hoped for earldom, but the preachers were not better paid.

Meanwhile the Protestants looked forward to the Queen's arrival with great searchings of heart. She had not ratified the treaty of Leith, but already Cardinal Guise hoped that she and Elizabeth would live in concord, and heard that Mary ceded all claims to the English throne in return for Elizabeth's promise to declare her the heir, if she herself died childless (August 21). {192}

Knox, who had not loved Mary of Guise, was not likely to think well of her daughter. Mary, again, knew Knox as the chief agitator in the tumults that embittered her mother's last year, and shortened her life. In France she had threatened to deal with him severely, ignorant of his power and her own weakness. She could not be aware that Knox had suggested to Cecil opposition to her succession to the throne on the ground of her sex. Knox uttered his forebodings of the Queen's future: they were as veracious as if he had really been a prophet. But he was, to an extent which can only be guessed, one of the causes of the fulfilment of his own predictions. To attack publicly, from the pulpit, the creed and conduct of a girl of spirit; to provoke cruel insults to her priests whom she could not defend; was apt to cause, at last, in great measure that wild revolt of temper which drove Mary to her doom. Her health suffered frequently from the attempt to bear with a smiling face such insults as no European princess, least of all Elizabeth, would have endured for an hour. There is a limit to patience, and before Mary passed that limit, Randolph and Lethington saw, and feebly deplored, the amenities of the preacher whom men permitted to "rule the roast." "Ten thousand swords" do not leap from their scabbards to protect either the girl Mary Stuart or the woman Marie Antoinette.

Not that natural indignation was dead, but it ended in words. People said, "The Queen's Mass and her priests will we maintain; this hand and this rapier will fight in their defence." So men bragged, as Knox reports, {193a} but when after Mary's arrival priests were beaten or pilloried, not a hand stirred to defend them, not a rapier was drawn. The Queen might be as safely as she was deeply insulted through her faith. She was not at this time devoutly ardent in her creed, though she often professed her resolution to abide in it. Gentleness might conceivably have led her even to adopt the Anglican faith, or so it was deemed by some observers, but insolence and outrage had another effect on her temper.

Mary landed at Leith in a thick fog on August 19, 1561. She was now in a country where she lay under sentence of death as an idolater. Her continued existence was illegal. With her came Mary Seton, Mary Beaton, Mary Livingstone, and Mary Fleming, the comrades of her childhood; and her uncles, the Duc d'Aumale, Francis de Lorraine, and the noisy Marquis d'Elboeuf. She was not very welcome. As late as August 9, Randolph reports that her brother, Lord James, Lethington, and Morton "wish, as you do, she might be stayed yet for a space, and if it were not for their obedience sake, some of them care not though they never see her face." {193b} None the less, on June 8 Lord James tells Mary that he had given orders for her palace to be prepared by the end of July. He informs her that "many" hope that she will never come home. Nothing is "so necessary . . . as your Majesty's own presence"; and he hopes she will arrive punctually. If she cannot come she should send her commission to some of her Protestant advisers, by no means including the Archbishop of St. Andrews (Hamilton), with whom he will never work. It is not easy to see why Lord James should have wished that Mary "might be stayed," unless he merely dreaded her arrival while Elizabeth was in a bad temper. His letter to Elizabeth of August 6 is incompatible with treachery on his part. "Mr. Knox is determined to abide the uttermost, and others will not leave him till God have taken his life and theirs together." Of what were these heroes afraid? A "familiar," a witch, of Lady Huntly's predicted that the Queen would never arrive. "If false, I would she were burned for a witch," adds honest Randolph. Lethington deemed his "own danger not least." Two galleys full of ladies are not so alarming; did these men, practically hinting that English ships should stop their Queen, think that the Catholics in Scotland were too strong for them?

Not a noble was present to meet Mary when in the fog and filth of Leith she touched Scottish soil, except her natural brother, Lord Robert. {194} The rest soon gathered with faces of welcome. She met some Robin Hood rioters who lay under the law, and pardoned these roisterers (with their excommunication could she interfere?), because, says Knox, she was instructed that they had acted "in despite of the religion." Their festival had been forbidden under the older religion, as it happens, in 1555, and was again forbidden later by Mary herself.

All was mirth till Sunday, when the Queen's French priest celebrated Mass in her own chapel before herself, her three uncles, and Montrose. The godly called for the priest's blood, but Lord James kept the door, and his brothers protected the priest. Disappointed of blood, "the godly departed with great grief of heart," collecting in crowds round Holyrood in the afternoon. Next day the Council proclaimed that, till the Estates assembled and deliberated, no innovation should be made in the religion "publicly and universally standing." The Queen's servants and others from France must not be molested--on pain of death, the usual empty threat. They were assaulted, and nobody was punished for the offence. Arran alone made a protest, probably written by Knox. Who but Knox could have written that the Mass is "much more abominable and odious in the sight of God" than murder! Many an honest brother was conspicuously of the opinion which Arran's protest assigned to Omnipotence. Next Sunday Knox "thundered," and later regretted that "I did not that I might have done" (caused an armed struggle?), . . . "for God had given unto me credit with many, who would have put into execution God's judgments if I would only have consented thereto." Mary might have gone the way of Jezebel and Athaliah but for the mistaken lenity of Knox, who later "asked God's mercy" for not being more vehement. In fact, he rather worked "to slokin that fervency." {195} Let us hope that he is forgiven, especially as Randolph reports him extremely vehement in the pulpit. His repentance was publicly expressed shortly before the murder of Riccio. (In December 1565, probably, when the Kirk ordered the week's fast that, as it chanced, heralded Riccio's doom.) Privately to Cecil, on October 7, 1561, he uttered his regret that he had been so deficient in zeal. Cecil had been recommending moderation. {196}

On August 26, Randolph, after describing the intimidation of the priest, says "John Knox thundereth out of the pulpit, so that I fear nothing so much as that one day he will mar all. He ruleth the roast, and of him all men stand in fear." In public at least he did not allay the wrath of the brethren.

On August 26, or on September 2, Knox had an interview with the Queen, and made her weep. Randolph doubted whether this was from anger or from grief. Knox gives Mary's observations in the briefest summary; his own at great length, so that it is not easy to know how their reasoning really sped. Her charges were his authorship of the "Monstrous Regiment of Women"; that he caused great sedition and slaughter in England; and that he was accused of doing what he did by necromancy. The rest is summed up in "&c."

He stood to his guns about the "Monstrous Regiment," and generally took the line that he merely preached against "the vanity of the papistical religion" and the deceit, pride, and tyranny of "that Roman Antichrist." If one wishes to convert a young princess, bred in the Catholic faith, it is not judicious to begin by abusing the Pope. This too much resembles the arbitrary and violent method of Peter in The Tale of a Tub (by Dr. Jonathan Swift); such, however, was the method of Knox.

Mary asking if he denied her "just authority," Knox said that he was as well content to live under her as Paul under Nero. This, again, can hardly be called an agreeable historical parallel! Knox hoped that he would not hurt her or her authority "so long as ye defile not your hands with the blood of the saints of God," as if Mary was panting to distinguish herself in that way. His hope was unfulfilled. No "saints" suffered, but he ceased not to trouble.

Knox also said that if he had wanted "to trouble your estate because you are a woman, I might have chosen a time more convenient for that purpose than I can do now, when your own presence is in the realm." He had, in fact, chosen the convenient time in his letter to Cecil, already quoted (July 19, 1559), but he had not succeeded in his plan. He said that nobody could prove that the question of discarding Mary, on the ground of her sex, "was at any time moved in public or in secret." Nobody could prove it, for nobody could publish his letter to Cecil. Probably he had this in his mind. He did not say that the thing had not happened, only that "he was 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." {197}

He denied that he had caused sedition in England, nor do we know what Mary meant by this charge. His appeals, from abroad, to a Phinehas or Jehu had not been answered. As to magic, he always preached against the practice.

Mary then said that Knox persuaded the people to use religion not allowed by their princes. He justified himself by biblical precedents, to which she replied that Daniel and Abraham did not resort to the sword. They had not the chance, he answered, adding that subjects might resist a prince who exceeded his bounds, as sons may confine a maniac father.

The Queen was long silent, and then said, "I perceive my subjects shall obey you and not me." Knox said that all should be subject unto God and His Church; and Mary frankly replied, "I will defend the Church of Rome, for I think that it is the true Church of God." She could not defend it! Knox answered with his wonted urbanity, that the Church of Rome was a harlot, addicted to "all kinds of fornication."

He was so accustomed to this sort of rhetoric that he did not deem it out of place on this occasion. His admirers, familiar with his style, forget its necessary effect on "a young princess unpersuaded," as Lethington put it. Mary said that her conscience was otherwise minded, but Knox knew that all consciences of "man or angel" were wrong which did not agree with his own. The Queen had to confess that in argument as to the unscriptural character of the Mass, he was "owre sair" for her. He said that he wished she would "hear the matter reasoned to the end." She may have desired that very thing: "Ye may get that sooner than ye believe," she said; but Knox expressed his disbelief that he would ever get it. Papists would never argue except when "they were both judge and party." Knox himself never answered Ninian Winzet, who, while printing his polemic, was sought for by the police of the period, and just managed to escape.

There was, however, a champion who, on November 19, challenged Knox and the other preachers to a discussion, either orally or by interchange of letters. This was Mary's own chaplain, Rene Benoit. Mary probably knew that he was about to offer to meet "the most learned John Knox and other most erudite men, called ministers"; it is thus that Rene addresses them in his "Epistle" of November 19.

He implores them not to be led into heresy by love of popularity or of wealth; neither of which advantages the preachers enjoyed, for they were detested by loose livers, and were nearly starved. Benoit's little challenge, or rather request for discussion, is a model of courtesy. Knox did not meet him in argument, as far as we are aware; but in 1562, Fergusson, minister of Dunfermline, replied in a tract full of scurrility. One quite unmentionable word occurs, and "impudent lie," "impudent and shameless shavelings," "Baal's chaplains that eat at Jezebel's table," "pestilent papistry," "abominable mass," "idol Bishops," "we Christians and you Papists," and parallels between Benoit and "an idolatrous priest of Bethel," between Mary and Jezebel are among the amenities of this meek servant of Christ in Dunfermline.

Benoit presently returned to France, and later was confessor to Henri IV. The discussion which Mary anticipated never occurred, though her champion was ready. Knox does not refer to this affair in his "History," as far as I am aware. {199} Was Rene the priest whom the brethren menaced and occasionally assaulted?

Considering her chaplain's offer, it seems not unlikely that Mary was ready to listen to reasoning, but to call the Pope "Antichrist," and the Church "a harlot," is not argument. Knox ended his discourse by wishing the Queen as blessed in Scotland as Deborah was in Israel. The mere fact that Mary spoke with him "makes the Papists doubt what shall come of the world," {200a} says Randolph; and indeed nobody knows what possibly might have come, had Knox been sweetly reasonable. But he told his friends that, if he was not mistaken, she had "a proud mind, a crafty wit, and an indurate heart against God and His truth." She showed none of these qualities in the conversation as described by himself; but her part in it is mainly that of a listener who returns not railing with railing.

Knox was going about to destroy the scheme of les politiques, Randolph, Lethington, and the Lord James. They desired peace and amity with England, and the two Scots, at least, hoped to secure these as the Cardinal Guise did, by Mary's renouncing all present claim to the English throne, in return for recognition as heir, if Elizabeth died without issue. Elizabeth, as we know her, would never have granted these terms, but Mary's ministers, Lethington then in England, Lord James at home, tried to hope. {200b} Lord James had heard Mary's outburst to Knox about defending her own insulted Church, but he was not nervously afraid that she would take to dipping her hands in the blood of the saints. Neither he nor Lethington could revert to the old faith; they had pecuniary reasons, as well as convictions, which made that impossible.

Lethington, returned to Edinburgh (October 25), spoke his mind to Cecil. "The Queen behaves herself . . . as reasonably as we can require: if anything be amiss the fault is rather in ourselves. You know the vehemency of Mr. Knox's spirit which cannot be bridled, and yet doth utter sometimes such sentences as cannot easily be digested by a weak stomach. I would wish he should deal with her more gently, being a young princess unpersuaded. . . . Surely in her comporting with him she declares a wisdom far exceeding her age." {201a} Vituperation is not argument, and gentleness is not unchristian. St. Paul did not revile the gods of Felix and Festus.

But, prior to these utterances of October, the brethren had been baiting Mary. On her public entry (which Knox misdates by a month) her idolatry was rebuked by a pageant of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram. Huntly managed to stop a burning in effigy of a priest at the Mass. They never could cease from insulting the Queen in the tenderest point. The magistrates next coupled "mess-mongers" with notorious drunkards and adulterers, "and such filthy persons," in a proclamation, so the Provost and Bailies were "warded" (Knox says) in the Tolbooth. Knox blamed Lethington and Lord James, in a letter to Cecil; {201b} in his "History" he says, "God be merciful to some of our own." {201c}

The Queen herself, as a Papist, was clearly insulted in the proclamation. Moray and Lethington, the latter touched by her "readiness to hear," and her gentleness in the face of Protestant brutalities; the former, perhaps, lured by the hope of obtaining, as the price of his alliance, the earldom of Moray, were by the end of October still attempting to secure amity between her and Elizabeth, and to hope for the best, rather than drive the Queen wild by eternal taunts and menaces. The preachers denounced her rites at Hallowmass (All Saints), and a servant of her brother, Lord Robert, beat a priest; but men actually doubted whether subjects might interfere between the Queen and her religion. There was a discussion on this point between the preachers and the nobles, and the Church in Geneva (Calvin) was to be consulted. Knox offered to write, but Lethington said that he would write, as much stood on the "information"; that is, on the manner of stating the question. Lethington did not know, and Knox does not tell us in his "History" that he had himself, a week earlier, put the matter before Calvin in his own way. Even Lord James, he says to Calvin, though the Abdiel of godliness, "is afraid to overthrow that idol by violence"--idolum illud missalicum. {202}

Knox's letter to Calvin represents the Queen as alleging that he has already answered the question, declaring that Knox's party has no right to interfere with the Royal mass. This rumour Knox disbelieves. He adds that Arran would have written, but was absent.

Apparently Arran did write to Calvin, anonymously, and dating from London, November 18, 1561. The letter, really from Scotland, is in French. The writer acknowledges the receipt, about August 20, of an encouraging epistle from Calvin. He repeats Knox's statements, in the main, and presses for a speedy reply. He says that he goes seldom to Court, both on account of "that idol," and because "sobriety and virtue" have been exiled. {203a} As Arran himself "is known to have had company of a good handsome wench, a merchant's daughter," which led to a riot with Bothwell, described by Randolph (December 27, 1561), his own "virtue and sobriety" are not conspicuous. {203b} He was in Edinburgh on November 15-19, and the London date of his anonymous letter is a blind. {203c}

It does not appear that Calvin replied to Knox, and to the anonymous correspondent, in whom I venture to detect Arran; or, if he answered, his letter was probably unfavourable to Knox, as we shall argue when the subject later presents itself.

Finally--"the votes of the Lords prevailed against the ministers"; the Queen was allowed her Mass, but Lethington, a minister of the Queen, did not consult a foreigner as to the rights of her subjects against her creed.

The lenity of Lord James was of sudden growth. At Stirling he and Argyll had gallantly caused the priests to leave the choir "with broken heads and bloody ears," the Queen weeping. So Randolph reported to Cecil (September 24).

Why her brother, foremost to insult Mary and her faith, unless Randolph errs, in September, took her part in a few weeks, we do not know. At Perth, Mary was again offended, and suffered in health by reason of the pageants; "they did too plainly condemn the errors of the world. . . . I hear she is troubled with such sudden passions after any great unkindness or grief of mind," says Randolph. She was seldom free from such godly chastisements. At Perth, however, some one gave her a cross of five diamonds with pendant pearls.

Meanwhile the statesmen did not obey the Ministers as men ought to obey God: a claim not easily granted by carnal politicians.


Andrew Lang

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