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Chapter 3


KNOX IN ST. ANDREWS CASTLE: THE GALLEYS: 1547-1549


We now take up Knox where we left him: namely when Wishart was arrested in January 1546. He was then tutor to the sons of the lairds of Langniddrie and Ormiston, Protestants and of the English party. Of his adventures we know nothing, till, on Beaton's murder (May 29, 1546), the Cardinal's successor, Archbishop Hamilton, drove him "from place to place," and, at Easter, 1547, he with his pupils entered the Castle of St. Andrews, then held, with some English aid, against the Regent Arran, by the murderers of Beaton and their adherents. {22} Knox was not present, of course, at Beaton's murder, about which he writes so "merrily," in his manner of mirth; nor at the events of Arran's siege of the castle, prior to April 1547. He probably, as regards these matters, writes from recollection of what Kirkcaldy of Grange, James Balfour, Balnaves, and the other murderers or associates of the murderers of the Cardinal told him in 1547, or later communicated to him as he wrote, about 1565-66. With his unfortunate love of imputing personal motives, he attributes the attacks by the rulers on the murderers mainly to the revengeful nature of Mary of Guise; the Cardinal having been "the comfort to all gentlewomen, and especially to wanton widows. His death must be revenged." {23a}

Knox avers that the besiegers of St. Andrews Castle, despairing of their task, near the end of January 1547 made a fraudulent truce with the assassins, hoping for the betrayal of the castle, or of some of the leaders. {23b} In his narrative we find partisanship or very erroneous information. The conditions were, he says, that (1) the murderers should hold the castle till Arran could obtain for them, from the Pope, a sufficient absolution; (2) that they should give hostages, as soon as the absolution was delivered to them; (3) that they and their friends should not be prosecuted, nor undergo any legal penalties for the murder of the Cardinal; (4) that they should meanwhile keep the eldest son of Arran as hostage, so long as their own hostages were kept. The Government, however, says Knox, "never minded to keep word of them" (of these conditions), "as the issue did declare."

There is no proof of this accusation of treachery on the part of Arran, or none known to me. The constant aim of Knox, his fixed idea, as an historian, is to accuse his adversaries of the treachery which often marked the negotiations of his friends.

From this point, the truce, dated by Knox late in January 1547, he devotes eighteen pages to his own call to the ministry by the castle people, and to his controversies and sermons in St. Andrews. He then returns to history, and avers that, about June 21, 1547, the papal absolution was presented to the garrison merely as a veil for a treasonable attack, but was rejected, as it included the dubious phrase, Remittimus irremissibile--"We remit the crime that cannot be remitted." Nine days later, June 29, he says, by "the treasonable mean" of Arran, Archbishop Hamilton, and Mary of Guise, twenty-one French galleys, and such an army as the Firth had never seen, hove into view, and on June 30 summoned the castle to surrender. The siege of St Andrews Castle, from the sea, by the French then began, but the garrison and castle were unharmed, and many of the galley slaves and some French soldiers were slain, and a ship was driven out of action. The French "shot two days" only. On July 19 the siege was renewed by land, guns were mounted on the spires of St. Salvator's College chapel and on the Cathedral, and did much scathe, though, during the first three weeks of the siege, the garrison "had many prosperous chances." Meanwhile Knox prophesied the defeat of his associates, because of "their corrupt life." They had robbed and ravished, and were probably demoralised by Knox's prophecies. On the last day of July the castle surrendered. {24} Knox adds that his friends would deal with France alone, as "Scottish men had all traitorously betrayed them."

Now much of this narrative is wrong; wrong in detail, in suggestion, in omission. That a man of fifty, or sixty, could attribute the attacks on Beaton's murderers to mere revenge, specially to that of a "wanton widow," Mary of Guise (who had, we are to believe, so much of the Cardinal's attentions as his mistress, Mariotte Ogilvy, could spare), is significant of the spirit in which Knox wrote history. He had a strong taste for such scandals as this about the "wanton widow."

Wherever he touches on Mary of Guise (who once treated him in a spirit of banter), he deals a stab at her name and fame. On all that concerns her personal character and political conduct, he is unworthy of credit when uncorroborated by better authority. Indeed Knox's spirit is so unworthy that for this, among other reasons, Archbishop Spottiswoode declined to believe in his authorship of the "History." The actual facts were not those recorded by Knox.

As regards the "Appointment" or arrangement of the Scottish Government with the Castilians, it was not made late in January 1547, but was at least begun by December 17-19, 1546. {25a} On January 11, 1547, a spy of England, Stewart of Cardonald, reports that the garrison have given pledges and await their absolution from Rome. {25b} With regard to Knox's other statements in this place, it was not after this truce, first, but before it, on November 26, that Arran invited French assistance, if England would not include Scotland in a treaty of peace with France. An English invasion was expected in February 1547, and Arran's object in the "Appointment" with the garrison was to prevent the English from becoming possessed of the Castle of St. Andrews. Far from desiring a papal pardon--a mere pretext to gain time for English relief--the garrison actually asked Henry VIII. to request the Emperor, to implore the Pope, "to stop and hinder their absolution." {25c} Knox very probably knew nothing of all this, but his efforts to throw the blame of treachery on his opponents are obviously futile.

As to the honesty of his associates--before the death of Henry VIII. (January 28, 1547), the Castilians had promised him not to surrender the place without his consent, and to put Arran's son in his hands, promises which they also made, on Henry's death, to the English Government; in February they repeated these promises, quite incompatible with their vow to surrender if absolved. Knox represents them as merely promising to Henry that they would return Arran's son, and support the plan of marrying Mary Stuart to Prince Edward of Wales! {26a} In March 1547, English ships gathered at Holy Island, to relieve the castle. Not on June 21, 1547, as Knox alleges, but before April 2, the papal absolution for the murderers arrived. They mocked at it; and the spy who reports the facts is told that they "would rather have a boll of wheat than all the Pope's remissions." {26b} Whatever the terms of the papal remission, they had already, before it arrived, bound themselves to England not to accept it save with English concurrence; and England, then preparing to invade Scotland, could not possibly concur. Such was the honesty of Knox's party, and we already see how far his "History" deserves to be accepted as historical.

Next, what is most surprising, Knox's account of the month of ineffectual siege by the French, while he was actually in the castle, rests on a strange error of his memory. The contemporary diary, Diurnal of Occurrences dates the sending (the arrival must be meant) of the French galleys, not on June 29, as Knox dates their arrival, but on July 24. Professor Hume Brown says that the Diurnal gives the date as June 24 (a slip of the pen), "but Knox had surely the best opportunity of knowing both facts" {27a}--that is, the number of the galleys, and the date of their coming. Despite his unrivalled opportunities of knowledge, Knox did not know. It is not quite correct to say that "Knox in his 'History' shows throughout a conscientious regard to accuracy of statement." Whatever the number of the galleys (Knox says twenty-one; the Diurnal says sixteen), on July 13-14, they are reported by Lord Eure, at Berwick, as passing or having just passed Eyemouth. {27b} They did not therefore suffer for three weeks at the garrison's hands, or for three weeks desert the siege, but probably reached the scene of action before the date in the Diurnal (July 24), as, on July 23, the French Ambassador in England heard that they were investing the castle. {27c} Allowing five or six days for transmission of news, they probably began the attack from the sea about July 16 or 17, not, as Knox says, on June 30. Perhaps he is right in saying that the French galleys only fired for two days and retreated, rather battered, to Dundee. Land forces next attacked the hold, which surrendered on July 29 (as was known in London on August 5), that is, on the first day that the land battery was erected.

Knox gives a much more full account of his own controversies, in April- June 1547, than of political events. He first, on arrival at the castle, drew up a catechism for his pupils, and publicly catechised them on its tenets, in the parish kirk in South Street. It is unfortunate that we do not possess this catechism. At the time when he wrote, Knox was possibly more of "Martin's" mind, as he familiarly terms Luther, both as to the Sacrament and as to the Order of Bishops, than he was after his residence in Geneva. Wishart, however, was well acquainted with Helvetic doctrine; he had, as we saw, translated a Helvetic Confession of Faith, perhaps with the view of introducing it into Scotland, and Knox may already have imbibed Calvinism from him. He was not yet--he never was--a full-blown Presbyterian, and, while thinking nothing of "orders," would not have rejected a bishop, if the bishop preached and was of godly and frugal life. Already sermons were the most important part of public worship in the mind of Knox.

In addition to public catechising he publicly expounded, and lectured on the Fourth Gospel, in the chapel of the castle. He doubted if he had "a lawful vocation" to preach. The castle pulpit was then occupied by an ex-friar named Rough. This divine, later burned in England, preached a sermon declaring a doctrine accepted by Knox, namely, that any congregation could call on any man in whom they "espied the gifts of God" to be their preacher; he offered Knox the post, and all present agreed. Knox wept, and for days his gloom declared his sense of his responsibility: such was "his holy vocation." The garrison was, confessedly, brutal, licentious, and rapacious, but they "all" partook of the holy Communion. {28}

In controversy, Knox declared the Church to be "the synagogue of Satan," and in the Pope he detected and denounced "the Man of Sin." On the following Sunday he proved, from Daniel, that the Roman Church is "that last Beast." The Church is also anti-Christ, and "the Hoore of Babylon," and Knox dilated on the personal misconduct of Popes and "all shavelings for the most part." He contrasted Justification by Faith with the customs of pardons and pilgrimages.

After these remarks, a controversy was held between Knox and the sub-prior, Wynram, the Scottish Vicar of Bray, Knox being understood to maintain that no bishop who did not preach was really a bishop; that the Mass is "abominable idolatry"; that Purgatory does not exist; and that the tithes are not necessarily the property of churchmen--a doctrine very welcome to the hungry nobles of Scotland. Knox, of course, easily overcame an ignorant opponent, a friar, who joined in the fray. His own arguments he later found time to write out fully in the French galleys, in which he was a prisoner, after the fall of the castle. If he "wrate in the galleys," as he says, they cannot have been always such floating hells as they are usually reckoned.

That Knox, and other captives from the castle, were placed in the galleys after their surrender, was an abominable stretch of French power. They were not subjects of France. The terms on which they surrendered are not exactly known. Knox avers that they were to be free to live in France, and that, if they wished to leave, they were to be conveyed, at French expense, to any country except Scotland. Buchanan declares that only the lives of the garrison and their friends were secured by the terms of surrender. Lesley supports Knox, {30a} who is probably accurate.

To account for the French severity, Knox tells us that the Pope insisted on it, appealing to both the Scottish and French Governments; and Scotland sent an envoy to France to beg "that those of the castle should be sharply handled." Men of birth were imprisoned, the rest went to the galleys. Knox's life cannot have been so bad as that of the Huguenot galley slaves under Louis XIV. He was allowed to receive letters; he read and commented on a treatise written in prison by Balnaves; and he even wrote a theological work, unless this work was his commentary on Balnaves. These things can only have been possible when the galleys were not on active service. In a very manly spirit, he never dilated on his sufferings, and merely alludes to "the torment I sustained in the galleys." He kept up his heart, always prophesying deliverance; and once (June, 1548?), when in view of St. Andrews, declared that he should preach again in the kirk where his career began. Unluckily, the person to whom he spoke, at a moment when he himself was dangerously ill, denied that he had ever been in the galleys at all! {30b} He was Sir James Balfour, a notorious scoundrel, quite untrustworthy; according to Knox, he had spoken of the prophecy, in Scotland, long before its fulfilment.

Knox's health was more or less undermined, while his spiritual temper was not mollified by nineteen months of the galleys, mitigated as they obviously were.

It is, doubtless, to his "torment" in the galleys that Knox refers when he writes: "I know how hard the battle is between the spirit and the flesh, under the heavy cross of affliction, where no worldly defence, but present death, does appear. . . . Rests only Faith, provoking us to call earnestly, and pray for assistance of God's spirit, wherein if we continue, our most desperate calamities shall turn to gladness, and to a prosperous end. . . . With experience I write this."

In February or March, 1549, Knox was released; by April he was in England, and, while Edward VI. lived, was in comparative safety.


Andrew Lang

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