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Chapter 17


KNOX AND QUEEN MARY (continued), 1564-1567


During the session of the General Assembly in December 1563, Knox was compelled to chronicle domestic enormities. The Lord Treasurer, Richardson, having, like Captain Booth, "offended the law of Dian," had to do penance before the whole congregation, and the sermon (unfortunately it is lost, probably it never was written out) was preached by Knox. A French apothecary of the Queen's, and his mistress, were hanged on a charge of murdering their child. {237a} On January 9, 1564-65, Randolph noted that one of the Queen's Maries, Mary Livingstone, is to marry John Sempill, son of Robert, third Lord Sempill, by an English wife. Knox assures us that "it is well known that shame hastened marriage between John Sempill, called 'the Dancer,' and Mary Livingstone, surnamed 'the Lusty.'" The young people appear, however, to have been in no pressing hurry, as Randolph, on January 9, did not expect their marriage till the very end of February; they wished the Earl of Bedford, who was coming on a diplomatic mission, to be present. {237b} Mary, on March 9, 1565, made them a grant of lands, since "it has pleased God to move their hearts to join together in the state of matrimony." {237c} She had ever since January been making the bride presents of feminine finery.

These proceedings indicating no precipitate haste, we may think that Mary Livingstone, like Mary of Guise, is only a victim of the Reformer's taste for "society journalism." Randolph, though an egregious gossip, says of the Four Maries, "they are all good," but Knox writes that "the ballads of that age" did witness to the "bruit" or reputation of these maidens. As is well known the old ballad of "Mary Hamilton," which exists in more than a dozen very diverse variants, in some specimens confuses one of the Maries, an imaginary "Mary Hamilton," with the French maid who was hanged at the end of 1563. The balladist is thus responsible for a scandal against the fair sisterhood; there was no "Mary Hamilton," and no "Mary Carmichael," in their number--Beaton, Seton, Fleming, and Livingstone.

An offended Deity now sent frost in January 1564, and an aurora borealis in February, Knox tells us, and "the threatenings of the preachers were fearful," in face of these unusual meteorological phenomena. {238}

Vice rose to such a pitch that men doubted if the Mass really was idolatry! Knox said, from the pulpit, that if the sceptics were right, he was "miserably deceived." "Believe me, brethren, in the bowels of Christ, it is possible that you may be mistaken," Cromwell was to tell the Commissioners of the General Assembly, on a day that still was in the womb of the future; the dawn of common sense rose in the south.

On March 20, much to the indignation of the Queen, the banns were read twice between Knox and a lady of the Royal blood and name, Margaret Stewart, daughter of Lord Ochiltree, a girl not above sixteen, in January 1563, when Randolph first speaks of the wooing. {239} The good Dr. M'Crie does not mention the age of the bride! The lady was a very near kinswoman of Chatelherault. She had plenty of time for reflection, and as nobody says that she was coerced into the marriage, while Nicol Burne attributes her passion to sorcery, we may suppose that she was in love with our Reformer. She bore him several daughters, and it is to be presumed that the marriage, though in every way bizarre, was happy. Burne says that Knox wished to marry a Lady Fleming, akin to Chatelherault, but was declined; if so, he soon consoled himself.

At this time Riccio--a valet de chambre of the Queen in 1561-62--"began to grow great in Court," becoming French Secretary at the end of the year. By June 3, 1565, Randolph is found styling Riccio "only governor" to Darnley. His career might have rivalled that of the equally low-born Cardinal Alberoni, but for the daggers of Moray's party.

In the General Assembly of June 1564, Moray, Morton, Glencairn, Pitarro, Lethington, and other Lords of the Congregation held aloof from the brethren, but met the Superintendents and others to discuss the recent conduct of our Reformer, who was present. He was invited, by Lethington, to "moderate himself" in his references to the Queen, as others might imitate him, "albeit not with the same modesty and foresight," for Lethington could not help bantering Knox. Knox, of course, rushed to his doctrine of "idolatry" as provocative of the wrath of God--we have heard of the bad harvest, and the frost in January. It is not worth while to pursue in detail the discourses, in which Knox said that the Queen rebelled against God "in all the actions of her life." Ahab and Jezebel were again brought on the scene. It profited not Lethington to say that all these old biblical "vengeances" were "singular motions of the Spirit of God, and appertain nothing to our age." If Knox could have understood that, he would not have been Knox. The point was intelligible; Lethington perceived it, but Knox never chose to do so. He went on with his isolated texts, Lethington vainly replying "the cases are nothing alike." Knox came to his old stand, "the idolater must die the death," and the executioners must be "the people of God." Lethington quoted many opinions against Knox's, to no purpose, opinions of Luther, Melanchthon, Bucer, Musculus, and Calvin, but our Reformer brought out the case of "Amasiath, King of Judah," and "The Apology of Magdeburg." As to the opinion of Calvin and the rest he drew a distinction. They had only spoken of the godly who were suffering under oppression, not of the godly triumphant in a commonwealth. He forgot, or did not choose to remember, a previous decision of his own, as we shall see.

When the rest of the party were discussing the question, Makgill, Clerk Register, reminded them of their previous debate in November 1561, when {240} Knox, after secretly writing to Calvin, had proposed to write to him for his opinion about the Queen's Mass, and Lethington had promised to do so himself. But Lethington now said that, on later reflection, as Secretary of the Queen, he had scrupled, without her consent, to ask a foreigner whether her subjects might prevent her from enjoying the rites of her own religion--for that was what the "controversies" between her Highness and her subjects really and confessedly meant. {241a}

Knox was now requested to consult Calvin, "and the learned in other Kirks, to know their judgment in that question." The question, judging from Makgill's interpellation, was "whether subjects might lawfully take her Mass from the Queen." {241b} As we know, Knox had already put the question to Calvin by a letter of October 24, 1561, and so had the anonymous writer of November 18, 1561, whom I identify with Arran. Knox now refused to write to "Mr. Calvin, and the learned of other Kirks," saying (I must quote him textually, or be accused of misrepresentation), "I myself am not only fully resolved in conscience, but also I have heard the judgments in this, and all other things that I have affirmed in this Realm, of the most godly and most learned that be known in Europe. I come not to this Realm without their resolution; and for my assurance I have the handwritings of many; and therefore if I should move the same question again, what else should I do but either show my own ignorance and forgetfulness, or else inconstancy?" {241c} He therefore said that his opponents might themselves "write and complain upon him," and so learn "the plain minds" of the learned--but nobody took the trouble. Knox's defence was worded with the skill of a notary. He said that he had "heard the judgments" of "the learned and godly"; he did not say what these judgments were. Calvin, Morel, Bullinger, and such men, we know, entirely differed from his extreme ideas. He "came not without their resolution," or approval, to Scotland, but that was not the question at issue.

If Knox had received from Calvin favourable replies to his own letter, and Arran's, of October 24, November 18, 1561, can any one doubt that he would now have produced them, unless he did not wish the brethren to find out that he himself had written without their knowledge? We know what manner of answers he received, in 1554, orally from Calvin, in writing from Bullinger, to his questions about resistance to the civil power. {242a} I am sceptical enough to suppose that, if Knox had now possessed letters from Calvin, justifying the propositions which he was maintaining, such as that "the people, yea, or ane pairt of the people, may execute God's jugementis against their King, being ane offender," {242b} he would have exhibited them. I do not believe that he had any such letters from such men as Bullinger and Calvin. Indeed, we may ask whether the question of the Queen's Mass had arisen in any realm of Europe except Scotland. Where was there a Catholic prince ruling over a Calvinistic state? If nowhere, then the question would not be raised, except by Knox in his letter to Calvin of October 24, 1561. And where was Calvin's answer, and to what effect?

Knox may have forgotten, and Lethington did not know, that, about 1558- 59, in a tract, already noticed (pp. 101-103 supra), of 450 pages against the Anabaptists, Knox had expressed the reverse of his present opinion about religious Regicide. He is addressing the persecuting Catholic princes of Europe: " . . . Ye shall perish, both temporally and for ever. And by whom doth it most appear that temporally ye shall be punished? By us, whom ye banish, whom ye spoil and rob, whom cruelly ye persecute, and whose blood ye daily shed? {243a} There is no doubt, but as the victory which overcometh the world is our faith, so it behoveth us to possess our souls in our patience. We neither privily nor openly deny the power of the Civil Magistrate. . . . "

The chosen saints and people of God, even when under oppression, lift not the hand, but possess their souls in patience, says Knox, in 1558-59. But the idolatrous shall be temporally punished--by other hands. "And what instruments can God find in this life more apt to punish you than those" (the Anabaptists), "that hate and detest all lawful powers? . . . God will not use his saints and chosen people to punish you. For with them there is always mercy, yea, even although God have pronounced a curse and malediction, as in the history of Joshua is plain." {243b}

In this passage Knox is speaking for the English exiles in Geneva. He asserts that we "neither publicly nor privately deny the power of the Civil Magistrate," in face of his own published tracts of appeal to a Jehu or a Phinehas, and of his own claim that the Prophet may preach treason, and that his instruments may commit treason. To be sure all the English in Geneva were not necessarily of Knox's mind.

It is altogether a curious passage. God's people are more merciful than God! Israel was bidden to exterminate all idolaters in the Promised Land, but, as the Book of Joshua shows, they did not always do it: "for with them is always mercy"; despite the massacres, such as that of Agag, which Knox was wont to cite as examples to the backward brethren! Yet, relying on another set of texts, not in Joshua, Knox now informed Lethington that the executors of death on idolatrous princes were "the people of God"--"the people, or a part of the people." {244a}

Mercy! Happily the policy of carnal men never allowed Knox's "people of God" to show whether, given a chance to destroy idolaters, they would display the mercy on which he insists in his reply to the Anabaptist.

It was always useless to argue with Knox; for whatever opinion happened to suit him at the moment (and at different moments contradictory opinions happened to suit him), he had ever a Bible text to back him. On this occasion, if Lethington had been able to quote Knox's own statement, that with the people of God "there is always mercy" (as in the case of Cardinal Beaton), he could hardly have escaped by saying that there was always mercy, when the people of God had not the upper hand in the State, {244b} when unto them God has not "given sufficient force." For in the chosen people of God "there is always mercy, yea even although God have pronounced a curse and malediction."

In writing against Anabaptists (1558-59), Knox wanted to make them, not merciful Calvinists, the objects of the fear and revenge of Catholic rulers. He even hazarded one of his unfulfilled prophecies: Anabaptists, wicked men, will execute those divine judgments for which Protestants of his species are too tender-hearted; though, somehow, they make exceptions in the cases of Beaton and Riccio, and ought to do so in the case of Mary Stuart!

Lethington did not use this passage of our Reformer's works against him, though it was published in 1560. Probably the secretary had not worked his way through the long essay on Predestination. But we have, in the book against the Anabaptists and in the controversy with Lethington, an example of Knox's fatal intellectual faults. As an individual man, he would not have hurt a fly. As a prophet, he deliberately tried to restore, by a pestilent anachronism, in a Christian age and country, the ferocities attributed to ancient Israel. This he did not even do consistently, and when he is inconsistent with his prevailing mood, his biographers applaud his "moderation"! If he saw a chance against an Anabaptist, or if he wanted to conciliate Mary of Guise, he took up a Christian line, backing it by texts appropriate to the occasion.

His influence lasted, and the massacre of Dunavertie (1647), and the slaying of women in cold blood, months after the battle of Philiphaugh, and the "rouping" of covenanted "ravens" for the blood of cavaliers taken under quarter, are the direct result of Knox's intellectual error, of his appeals to Jehu, Phinehas, and so forth.

At this point the Fourth Book of Knox's "History" ends with a remark on the total estrangement between himself and Moray. The Reformer continued to revise and interpolate his work, up to 1571, the year before his death, and made collections of materials, and notes for the continuation. An uncertain hand has put these together in Book V. But we now miss the frequent references to "John Knox," and his doings, which must have been vigorous during the troubles of 1565, after the arrival in Scotland of Darnley (February 1565), and his courtship and marriage of the Queen. These events brought together Moray, Chatelherault, and many of the Lords in the armed party of the Congregation. They rebelled; they were driven by Mary into England, by October 1565, and Bothwell came at her call from France. The Queen had new advisers--Riccio, Balfour, Bothwell, the eldest son of the late Huntly, and Lennox, till the wretched Darnley in a few weeks proved his incapacity. Lethington, rather neglected, hung about the Court, as he remained with Mary of Guise long after he had intended to desert her.

Mary, whose only chance lay in outstaying Elizabeth in the policy of celibacy, had been driven, or led, by her rival Queen into a marriage which would have been the best possible, had Darnley been a man of character and a Protestant. He was the typical "young fool," indolent, incapable, fierce, cowardly, and profligate. His religion was dubious. After his arrival (on February 26, 1565) he went with Moray to hear Knox preach, but he had been bred by a Catholic mother, and, on occasion, posed as an ardent Catholic. {246} It is unfortunate that Randolph is silent about Knox during all the period of the broils which preceded and followed Mary's marriage.

On August 19, 1565, Darnley, now Mary's husband, went to hear Knox preach in St. Giles's, on the text, "O Lord our God, other lords than Thou have ruled over us." "God," he said, "sets in that room (for the offences and ingratitude of the people) boys and women." Ahab also appeared, as usual. Ahab "had not taken order with that harlot, Jezebel." So Book V. says, and "harlot" would be a hit at Mary's alleged misconduct with Riccio. A hint in a letter of Randolph's of August 24, may point to nascent scandal about the pair. But the printed sermon, from Knox's written copy, reads, not "harlot" but "idolatrous wife." At all events, Darnley was so moved by this sermon that he would not dine. {247a} Knox was called "from his bed" to the Council chamber, where were Atholl, Ruthven, Lethington, the Justice Clerk, and the Queen's Advocate. He was attended by a great crowd of notable citizens, but Lethington forbade him to preach for a fortnight or three weeks. He said that, "If the Church would command him to preach or abstain he would obey, so far as the Word of God would permit him."

It seems that he would only obey even the Church as far as he chose.

The Town Council protested against the deprivation, and we do not know how long Knox desisted from preaching. Laing thinks that, till Mary fell, he preached only "at occasional intervals." {247b} But we shall see that he did presently go on preaching, with Lethington for a listener. He published his sermon, without name of place or printer. The preacher informs his audience that "in the Hebrew there is no conjunction copulative" in a certain sentence; probably he knew more Hebrew than most of our pastors.

The sermon is very long, and, wanting the voice and gesture of the preacher, is no great proof of eloquence; in fact, is tedious. Probably Darnley was mainly vexed by the length, though he may have had intelligence enough to see that he and Mary were subjects of allusions. Knox wrote the piece from memory, on the last of August, in "the terrible roaring of guns, and the noise of armour." The banded Lords, Moray and the rest, had entered Edinburgh, looking for supporters, and finding none. Erskine, commanding the Castle, fired six or seven shots as a protest, and the noise of these disturbed the prophet at his task. As a marginal note says, "The Castle of Edinburgh was shooting against the exiled for Christ Jesus' sake" {248a}--namely, at Moray and his company. Knox prayed for them in public, and was accused of so doing, but Lethington testified that he had heard "the sermons," and found in them no ground of offence. {248b}

Moray, Ochiltree, Pitarro, and many others being now exiles in England, whose Queen had subsidised and repudiated them and their revolution, things went hard with the preachers. For a whole year at least (December 1565-66) their stipends were not paid, the treasury being exhausted by military and other expenses, and Pitarro being absent. At the end of December, Knox and his colleague, Craig, were ordered by the General Assembly to draw up and print a service for a general Fast, to endure from the last Sunday in February to the first in March, 1566. One cause alleged is that the Queen's conversion had been hoped for, but now she said that she would "maintain and defend" {248c} her own faith. She had said no less to Knox at their first interview, but now she had really written, when invited to abolish her Mass, that her subjects may worship as they will, but that she will not desert her religion. {249a} It was also alleged that the godly were to be destroyed all over Europe, in accordance with decrees of the Council of Trent. Moreover, vice, manslaughter, and oppression of the poor continued, prices of commodities rose, and work was scamped. The date of the Fast was fixed, not to coincide with Lent, but because it preceded an intended meeting of Parliament, {249b} a Parliament interrupted by the murder of Riccio, and the capture of the Queen. No games were to be played during the two Sundays of the Fast, which looks as if they were still permitted on other Sundays. The appointed lessons were from Judges, Esther, Chronicles, Isaiah, and Esdras; the New Testament, apparently, supplied nothing appropriate. It seldom did. The lay attendants of the Assembly of Christmas Day which decreed the Fast, were Morton, Mar, Lindsay, Lethington, with some lairds.

The Protestants must have been alarmed, in February 1566, by a report, to which Randolph gave circulation, that Mary had joined a Catholic League, with the Pope, the Emperor, the King of Spain, the Duke of Savoy, and others. Lethington may have believed this; at all events he saw no hope of pardon for Moray and his abettors--"no certain way, unless we chop at the very root, you know where it lieth" (February 9). {249c} Probably he means the murder of Riccio, not of the Queen. Bedford said that Mary had not yet signed the League. {249d} We are aware of no proof that there was any League to sign, and though Mary was begging money both from Spain and the Pope, she probably did not expect to procure more than tolerance for her own religion. {250a} The rumours, however, must have had their effect in causing apprehension. Moreover, Darnley, from personal jealousy; Morton, from fear of losing the Seals; the Douglases, kinsmen of Morton and Darnley; and the friends of the exiled nobles, seeing that they were likely to be forfeited, conspired with Moray in England to be Darnley's men, to slay Riccio, and to make the Queen subordinate to Darnley, and "to fortify and maintain" the Protestant faith. Mary, indeed, had meant to reintroduce the Spiritual Estate into Parliament, as a means of assisting her Church; so she writes to Archbishop Beaton in Paris. {250b}

Twelve wooden altars, to be erected in St. Giles's, are said by Knox's continuator to have been found in Holyrood. {250c}

Mary's schemes, whatever they extended to, were broken by the murder of Riccio in the evening of March 9. He was seized in her presence, and dirked by fifty daggers outside of her room. Ruthven, who in June 1564 had come into Mary's good graces, and Morton were, with Darnley, the leaders of the Douglas feud, and of the brethren.

The nobles might easily have taken, tried, and hanged Riccio, but they yielded to Darnley and to their own excited passions, when once they had torn him from the Queen. The personal pleasure of dirking the wretch could not be resisted, and the danger of causing the Queen's miscarriage and death may have entered into the plans of Darnley. Knox does not tell the story himself; his "History" ends in June 1564. But "in plain terms" he "lets the world understand what we mean," namely, that Riccio "was justly punished," and that "the act" (of the murderers) was "most just and most worthy of all praise." {251a} This Knox wrote just after the event, while the murderers were still in exile in England, where Ruthven died--seeing a vision of angels! Knox makes no drawback to the entirely and absolutely laudable character of the deed. He goes out of his way to tell us "in plain terms what we mean," in a digression from his account of affairs sixteen years earlier. Thus one fails to understand the remark, that "of the manner in which the deed was done we may be certain that Knox would disapprove as vehemently as any of his contemporaries." {251b} The words may be ironical, for vehement disapproval was not conspicuous among Protestant contemporaries. Knox himself, after Mary scattered the party of the murderers and recovered power, prayed that heaven would "put it into the heart of a multitude" to treat Mary like Athaliah.

Mary made her escape from Holyrood to Dunbar, to safety, in the night of March 11. March 12 found Knox on his knees; the game was up, the blood had been shed in vain. The Queen had not died, but was well, and surrounded by friends; and the country was rather for her than against her. The Reformer composed a prayer, repenting that "in quiet I am negligent, in trouble impatient, tending to desperation," which shows insight. He speaks of his pride and ambition, also of his covetousness and malice. That he was really covetous we cannot believe, nor does he show malice except against idolaters. He "does not doubt himself to be elected to eternal salvation," of which he has "assured signs." He has "knowledge above the common sort of my brethren" (pride has crept in again!), and has been compelled to "forespeak," or prophesy. He implores mercy for his "desolate bedfellow," for her children, and for his sons by his first wife. "Now, Lord, put end to my misery!" (Edinburgh, March 12, 1566). Knox fled from Edinburgh, "with a great mourning of the godly of religion," says a Diarist, on the same day as the chief murderers took flight, March 17; his place of refuge was Kyle in Ayrshire (March 21, 1566). {252a}

In Randolph's letter, recording the flight of these nobles, he mentions eight of their accomplices, and another list is pinned to the letter, giving names of men "all at the death of Davy and privy thereunto." This applies to about a dozen men, being a marginal note opposite their names. A line lower is added, "John Knox, John Craig, preachers." {252b} There is no other evidence that Knox, who fled, or Craig, who stood to his pulpit, were made privy to the plot. When idolaters thought it best not to let the Pope into a scheme for slaying Elizabeth, it is hardly probable that Protestants would apprise their leading preachers. On the other hand, Calvin was consulted by the would-be assassins of the Duc de Guise, in 1559-60, and he prevented the deed, as he assures the Duchesse de Ferrare, the mother-in-law of the Duc, after that noble was murdered in good earnest. {252c} Calvin, we have shown, knew beforehand of the conspiracy of Amboise, which aimed at the death of "Antonius," obviously Guise. He disapproved of but did not reveal the plot. Knox, whether privy to the murder or not, did not, when he ran away, take the best means of disarming suspicion. Neither his name nor that of Craig occurs in two lists containing those of between seventy and eighty persons "delated," and it is to be presumed that he fled because he did not feel sure of protection against Mary's frequently expressed dislike.

In earlier days, with a strong backing, he had not feared "the pleasing face of a gentlewoman," as he said, but now he did fear it. Kyle suited him well, because the Earl of Cassilis, who had been an idolater, was converted by a faithful bride, in August. Dr. M'Crie {253a} says that Mary "wrote to a nobleman in the west country with whom Knox resided, to banish him from his house." The evidence for this is a letter of Parkhurst to Bullinger, in December 1567. Parkhurst tells Bullinger, among other novelties, that Riccio was a necromancer, who happened to be dirked; by whom he does not say. He adds that Mary commanded "a certain pious earl" not to keep Knox in his house. {253b}

In Kyle Knox worked at his "History." On September 4 he signed a letter sent from the General Assembly at St. Andrews to Beza, approving of a Swiss confession of faith, except so far as the keeping of Christmas, Easter, and other Christian festivals is concerned. Knox himself wrote to Beza, about this time, an account of the condition of Scotland. It would be invaluable, as the career of Mary was rushing to the falls, but it is lost. {253c}

On December 24, Mary pardoned all the murderers of Riccio; and Knox appears to have been present, though it is not certain, at the Christmas General Assembly in Edinburgh. He received permission to visit his sons in England, and he wrote two letters: one to the Protestant nobles on Mary's attempt to revive the consistorial jurisdiction of the Primate; the other to the brethren. To England he carried a remonstrance from the Kirk against the treatment of Puritans who had conscientious objections to the apparel--"Romish rags"--of the Church Anglican. Men ought to oppose themselves boldly to Authority; that is, to Queen Elizabeth, if urged further than their consciences can bear. {254a}

Being in England, Knox, of course, did not witness the events associated with the Catholic baptism of the baby prince (James VI.); the murder of Darnley, in February 1567; the abduction of Mary by Bothwell, and her disgraceful marriage to her husband's murderer, in May 1567. If Knox excommunicated the Queen, it was probably about this date. Long afterwards, on April 25, 1584, Mary was discussing the various churches with Waad, an envoy of Cecil. Waad said that the Pope stirred up peoples not to obey their sovereigns. "Yet," said the Queen, "a Pope shall excommunicate you, but I was excommunicated by a pore minister, Knokes. In fayth I feare nothinge else but that they will use my sonne as they have done the mother." {254b}


Andrew Lang

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