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Chapter 6


KNOX IN THE ENGLISH PURITAN TROUBLES AT FRANKFORT: 1554-1555


The consequences of the "Admonition" came home to Knox when English refugees in Frankfort, impeded by him and others in the use of their Liturgy, accused him of high treason against Philip and Mary, and the Emperor, whom he had compared to Nero as an enemy of Christ.

The affair of "The Troubles at Frankfort" brought into view the great gulf for ever fixed between Puritanism and the Church of England. It was made plain that Knox and the Anglican community were of incompatible temperaments, ideas, and, we may almost say, instincts. To Anglicans like Cranmer, Knox, from the first, was as antipathetic as they were to him. "We can assure you," wrote some English exiles for religion's sake to Calvin, "that that outrageous pamphlet of Knox's" (his "Admonition") "added much oil to the flame of persecution in England. For before the publication of that book not one of our brethren had suffered death; but as soon as it came forth we doubt not but you are well aware of the number of excellent men who have perished in the flames; to say nothing of how many other godly men have been exposed to the risk of all their property, and even life itself, on the sole ground of either having had this book in their possession or having read it."

Such were the charges brought against Knox by these English Protestant exiles, fleeing from the persecution that followed the "Admonition," and, they say, took fresh ferocity from that tract.

The quarrel between Knox and them definitely marks the beginning of the rupture between the fathers of the Church of England and the fathers of Puritanism, Scottish Presbyterianism, and Dissent. The representatives of Puritans and of Anglicans were now alike exiled, poor, homeless, without any abiding city. That they should instantly quarrel with each other over their prayer book (that which Knox had helped to correct) was, as Calvin told them, "extremely absurd." Each faction probably foresaw--certainly Knox's party foresaw--that, in the English congregation at Frankfort, a little flock barely tolerated, was to be settled the character of Protestantism in England, if ever England returned to Protestantism. "This evil" (the acceptance of the English Second Book of Prayer of Edward VI.) "shall in time be established . . . and never be redressed, neither shall there for ever be an end of this controversy in England," wrote Knox's party to the Senate of Frankfort. The religious disruption in England was, in fact, incurable, but so it would have been had the Knoxians prevailed in Frankfort. The difference between the Churchman and the Dissenter goes to the root of the English character; no temporary triumph of either side could have brought Peace and union. While the world stands they will not be peaceful and united.

The trouble arose thus. At the end of June 1554, some English exiles of the Puritan sort, men who objected to surplices, responses, kneeling at the Communion, and other matters of equal moment, came to Frankfort. They obtained leave to use the French Protestant Chapel, provided that they "should not dissent from the Frenchmen in doctrine or ceremonies, lest they should thereby minister occasions of offence." They had then to settle what Order of services they should use; "anything they pleased," said the magistrates of Frankfort, "as long as they and the French kept the peace." They decided to adopt the English Order, barring responses, the Litany, the surplice, "and many other things." {54} The Litany was regarded by Knox as rather of the nature of magic than of prayer, the surplice was a Romish rag, and there was some other objection to the congregation's taking part in the prayers by responses, though they were not forbidden to mingle their voices in psalmody. Dissidium valde absurdum--"a very absurd quarrel," among exiled fellow-countrymen, said Calvin, was the dispute which arose on these points. The Puritans, however, decided to alter the service to their taste, and enjoyed the use of the chapel. They had obtained a service which they were not likely to have been allowed to enforce in England had Edward VI. lived; but on this point they were of another opinion.

This success was providential. They next invited English exiles abroad to join them at Frankfort, saying nothing about their mutilations of the service book. If these brethren came in, when they were all restored to England, if ever they were restored, their example, that of sufferers, would carry the day, and their service would for ever be that of the Anglican Church. The other exiled brethren, on receiving this invitation, had enough of the wisdom of the serpent to ask, "Are we to be allowed to use our own prayer book?" The answer of the godly of Frankfort evaded the question. At last the Frankfort Puritans showed their hand: they disapproved of various things in the Prayer Book. Knox, summoned from Geneva, a reluctant visitor, was already one of their preachers. In November 1554 came Grindal, later Archbishop of Canterbury, from Zurich, ready to omit some ceremonies, so that he and his faction might have "the substance" of the Prayer Book. Negotiations went on, and it was proposed by the Puritans to use the Geneva service. But Knox declined to do that, without the knowledge of the non-Puritan exiles at Zurich and elsewhere, or to use the English book, and offered his resignation. Nothing could be more fair and above-board.

There was an inchoate plan for a new Order. That failed; and Knox, with others, consulted Calvin, giving him a sketch of the nature of the English service. They drew his attention to the surplice; the Litany, "devised by Pope Gregory," whereby "we use a certain conjuring of God"; the kneeling at the Communion; the use of the cross in baptism, and of the ring in marriage, clearly a thing of human, if not of diabolical invention, and the "imposition of hands" in confirmation. The churching of women, they said, is both Pagan and Jewish. "Other things not so much shame itself as a certain kind of pity compelleth us to keep close."

"The tone of the letter throughout was expressly calculated to prejudice Calvin on the point submitted to him," says Professor Hume Brown. {56} Calvin replied that the quarrel might be all very well if the exiles were happy and at ease in their circumstances, though in the Liturgy, as described, there were "tolerable (endurable) follies." On the whole he sided with the Knoxian party. The English Liturgy is not pure enough; and the English exiles, not at Frankfort, merely like it because they are accustomed to it. Some are partial to "popish dregs."

To the extreme Reformers no break with the past could be too abrupt and precipitous: the framers of the English Liturgy had rather adopted the principle of evolution than of development by catastrophe, and had wedded what was noblest in old Latin forms and prayers to music of the choicest English speech. To this service, for which their fellow-religionists in England were dying at the stake, the non-Frankfortian exiles were attached. They were Englishmen; their service, they said, should bear "an English face": so Knox avers, who could as yet have no patriotic love of any religious form as exclusively and essentially Scottish.

A kind of truce was now proclaimed, to last till May 1, 1555; Knox aiding in the confection of a service without responses, "some part taken out of the English book, and other things put to," while Calvin, Bullinger, and three others were appointed as referees. The Frankfort congregation had now a brief interval of provisional peace, till, on March 13, 1555, Richard Cox, with a band of English refugees, arrived. He had been tutor to Edward VI., the young Marcellus of Protestantism, but for Frankfort he was not puritanic enough. His company would give a large majority to the anti-Knoxian congregation. He and his at once uttered the responses, and on Sunday one of them read the Litany. This was an unruly infraction of the provisional agreement. Cox and his party (April 5) represented to Calvin that they had given up surplices, crosses, and other things, "not as impure and papistical," but as indifferent, and for the sake of peace. This was after they had driven Knox from the place, as they presently did; in the beginning it was distinctly their duty to give up the Litany and responses, while the truce lasted, that is, till the end of April. In the afternoon of the Sunday Knox preached, denouncing the morning's proceedings, the "impurity" of the Prayer Book, of which "I once had a good opinion," and the absence, in England, of "discipline," that is, interference by preachers with private life. Pluralities also he denounced, and some of the exiles had been pluralists.

For all this Knox was "very sharply reproved," as soon as he left the pulpit. Two days later, at a meeting, he insisted that Cox's people should have a vote in the congregation, thus making the anti-puritans a majority; Knox's conduct was here certainly chivalrous: "I fear not your judgment," he said. He had never wished to go to Frankfort; in going he merely obeyed Calvin, and probably he had no great desire to stay. He was forbidden to preach by Cox and his majority; and a later conference with Cox led to no compromise. It seems probable that Cox and the anti- puritans already cherished a grudge against Knox for his tract, the "Admonition." He had a warning that they would use the pamphlet against him, and he avers that "some devised how to have me cast into prison." The anti-puritans, admitting in a letter to Calvin that they brought the "Admonition" before the magistrates of Frankfort as "a book which would supply their enemies with just ground for overturning the whole Church, and one which had added much oil to the flame of persecution in England," deny that they desired more than that Knox might be ordered to quit the place. The passages selected as treasonable in the "Admonition" do not include the prayer for a Jehu. They were enough, however, to secure the dismissal of Knox from Frankfort.

Cox had accepted the Order used by the French Protestant congregation, probably because it committed him and his party to nothing in England; however, Knox had no sooner departed than the anti-puritans obtained leave to use, without surplice, cross, and some other matters, the Second Prayer Book of Edward VI. In September the Puritans seceded, the anti- puritans remained, squabbling with the Lutherans and among themselves.

In the whole affair Knox acted the most open and manly part; in his "History" he declines to name the opponents who avenged themselves, in a manner so dubious, on his "Admonition." If they believed their own account of the mischief that it wrought in England, their denunciation of him to magistrates, who were not likely to do more than dismiss him, is the less inexcusable. They did not try to betray him to a body like the Inquisition, as Calvin did in the case of Servetus. But their conduct was most unworthy and unchivalrous. {58}


Andrew Lang

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