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Chapter 7


KNOX IN SCOTLAND: LETHINGTON: MARY OF GUISE: 1555-1556


Meanwhile the Reformer returned to Geneva (April 1555), where Calvin was now supreme. From Geneva, "the den of mine own ease, the rest of quiet study," Knox was dragged, "maist contrarious to mine own judgement," by a summons from Mrs. Bowes. He did not like leaving his "den" to rejoin his betrothed; the lover was not so fervent as the evangelist was cautious. Knox had at that time probably little correspondence with Scotland. He knew that there was no refuge for him in England under Mary Tudor, "who nowise may abide the presence of God's prophets."

In Scotland, at this moment, the Government was in the hands of Mary of Guise, a sister of the Duke of Guise and of the Cardinal. Mary was now aged forty; she was born in 1515, as Knox probably was. She was a tall and stately woman; her face was thin and refined; Henry VIII., as being himself a large man, had sought her hand, which was given to his nephew, James V. On the death of that king, Mary, with Cardinal Beaton, kept Scotland true to the French alliance, and her daughter, the fair Queen of Scots, was at this moment a child in France, betrothed to the Dauphin. As a Catholic, of the House of Lorraine, Mary could not but cleave to her faith and to the French alliance. In 1554 she had managed to oust from the Regency the Earl of Arran, the head of the all but royal Hamiltons, now gratified with the French title of Duc de Chatelherault. To crown her was as seemly a thing, says Knox, "if men had but eyes, as a saddle upon the back of ane unrewly kow." She practically deposed Huntly, the most treacherous of men, from the Chancellorship, substituting, with more or less reserve, a Frenchman, de Rubay; and d'Oysel, the commander of the French troops in Scotland, was her chief adviser.

Writing after the death of Mary of Guise, Knox avers that she only waited her chance "to cut the throats of all those in whom she suspected the knowledge of God to be, within the realm of Scotland." {60} As a matter of fact, the Regent later refused a French suggestion that she should peacefully call Protestants together, and then order a massacre after the manner of the Bartholomew: itself still in the womb of the future. "Mary of Guise," says Knox's biographer, Professor Hume Brown, "had the instincts of a good ruler--the love of order and justice, and the desire to stand well with the people."

Knox, however, believed, or chose to say, that she wanted to cut all Protestant throats, just as he believed that a Protestant king should cut all Catholic throats. He attributed to her, quite erroneously and uncharitably, his own unsparing fervour. As he held this view of her character and purposes, it is not strange that a journey to Scotland was "contrairious to his judgement."

He did not understand the situation. Ferocious as had been the English invasion of Scotland in 1547, the English party in Scotland, many of them paid traitors, did not resent these "rebukes of a friend," so much as both the nobles and the people now began to detest their French allies, and were jealous of the Queen Mother's promotion of Frenchmen.

There were not, to be sure, many Scots whom she, or any one, could trust. Some were honestly Protestant: some held pensions from England: others would sacrifice national interests to their personal revenges and clan feuds. The Rev. the Lord James Stewart, Mary's bastard brother, Prior of St. Andrews and of Pittenweem, was still very young. He had no interest in his clerical profession beyond drawing his revenues as prior of two abbeys; and his nearness to the Crown caused him to be suspected of ambition: moreover, he tended towards the new ideas in religion. He had met Knox in London, apparently in 1552. Morton was a mere wavering youth; Argyll was very old: Chatelherault was a rival of the Regent, a competitor for the Crown and quite incompetent. The Regent, in short, could scarcely have discovered a Scottish adviser worthy of employment, and when she did trust one, he was the brilliant "chamaeleon," young Maitland of Lethington, who would rather betray his master cleverly than run a straight course, and did betray the Regent. Thus Mary, a Frenchwoman and a Catholic, governing Scotland for her Catholic daughter, the Dauphiness, with the aid of a few French troops who had just saved the independence of the country, naturally employed French advisers. This made her unpopular; her attempts to bring justice into Scottish courts were odious, and she would not increase the odium by persecuting the Protestants. The Duke's bastard brother, again, the Archbishop, sharing his family ambition, was in no mood for burning heretics. The Queen Mother herself carried conciliation so far as to pardon and reinstate such trebly dyed traitors as the notorious Crichton of Brunston, and she employed Kirkcaldy of Grange, who intrigued against her while in her employment. An Edinburgh tailor, Harlaw, who seems to have been a deacon in English orders, was allowed to return to Scotland in 1554. He became a very notable preacher. {62a}

Going from Mrs. Bowes's house to Edinburgh, Knox found that "the fervency" of the godly "did ravish him." At the house of one Syme "the trumpet blew the auld sound three days thegither," he informed Mrs. Bowes, and Knox himself was the trumpeter. He found another lady, "who, by reason that she had a troubled conscience, delighted much in the company of the said John." There were pleasant sisters in Edinburgh, who later consulted Knox on the delicate subject of dress. He was more tolerant in answering them than when he denounced "the stinking pride of women" at Mary Stuart's Court; admitting that "in clothes, silks, velvets, gold, and other such, there is no uncleanness," yet "I cannot praise the common superfluity which women now use in their apparel." He was quite opposed, however, to what he pleasingly calls "correcting natural beauty" (as by dyeing the hair), and held that "farthingales cannot be justified."

On the whole, he left the sisters fairly free to dress as they pleased. His curious phrase, {62b} in a letter to a pair of sisters, "the prophets of God are often impeded to pray for such as carnally they love unfeignedly," is difficult to understand. We leave it to the learned to explain this singular limitation of the prophet, which Knox says that he had not as yet experienced. He must have heard about it from other prophets.

Knox found at this time a patron remarkable, says Dr. M'Crie, "for great respectability of character," Erskine of Dun. Born in 1508, about 1530 he slew a priest named Thomas Froster, in a curiously selected place, the belfry tower of Montrose. Nobody seems to have thought anything of it, nor should we know the fact, if the record of the blood-price paid by Mr. Erskine to the priest's father did not testify to the fervent act. Six years later, according to Knox, "God had marvellously illuminated" Erskine, and the mildness of his nature is frequently applauded. He was, for Scotland, a man of learning, and our first amateur of Greek. Why did he kill a priest in a bell tower!

In the winter or autumn of 1555, Erskine gave a supper, where Knox was to argue against crypto-protestantism. When once the Truth, whether Anglican or Presbyterian, was firmly established, Catholics were compelled, under very heavy fines, to attend services and sermons which they believed to be at least erroneous, if not blasphemous. I am not aware that, in 1555, the Catholic Church, in Scotland, thus vigorously forced people of Protestant opinions to present themselves at Mass, punishing nonconformity with ruin. I have not found any complaints to this effect, at that time. But no doubt an appearance of conformity might save much trouble, even in the lenient conditions produced by the character of the Regent and by the political situation. Knox, then, discovered that "divers who had a zeal to godliness made small scruple to go to the Mass, or to communicate with the abused sacraments in the Papistical manner." He himself, therefore, "began to show the impiety of the Mass, and how dangerous a thing it was to communicate in any sort with idolatry."

Now to many of his hearers this essential article of his faith--that the Catholic doctrine of the Eucharist and form of celebration were "idolatry"--may have been quite a new idea. It was already, however, a commonplace with Anglican Protestants. Nothing of the sort was to be found in the first Prayer Book of Edward VI.; broken lights of various ways of regarding the Sacrament probably played, at this moment, over the ideas of Knox's Scottish disciples. Indeed, their consciences appear to have been at rest, for it was after Knox's declaration about the "idolatrous" character of the Mass that "the matter began to be agitated from man to man, the conscience of some being afraid."

To us it may seem that the sudden denunciation of a Christian ceremony, even what may be deemed a perverted Christian ceremony, as sheer "idolatry," equivalent to the worship of serpents, bulls, or of a foreign Baal in ancient Israel--was a step calculated to confuse the real issues and to provoke a religious war of massacre. Knox, we know, regarded extermination of idolaters as a counsel of perfection, though in the Christian scriptures not one word could be found to justify his position. He relied on texts about massacring Amalekites and about Elijah's slaughter of the prophets of Baal. The Mass was idolatry, was Baal worship; and Baal worshippers, if recalcitrant, must die.

These extreme unchristian ideas, then, were new in Scotland, even to "divers who had a zeal to godliness." For their discussion, at Erskine of Dun's party, were present, among others, Willock, a Scots preacher returned from England, and young Maitland of Lethington. We are not told what part Willock took in the conversation. The arguments turned on biblical analogies, never really coincident with the actual modern circumstances. The analogy produced in discussion by those who did not go to all extremes with Knox did not, however, lack appropriateness. Christianity, in fact, as they seem to have argued, did arise out of Judaism; retaining the same God and the same scriptures, but, in virtue of the sacrifice of its Founder, abstaining from the sacrifices and ceremonial of the law. In the same way Protestantism arose out of mediaeval Catholicism, retaining the same God and the same scriptures, but rejecting the mediaeval ceremonial and the mediaeval theory of the sacrifice of the Mass. It did not follow that the Mass was sheer "idolatry," at which no friend of the new ideas could be present.

As a proof that such presence or participation was not unlawful, was not idolatry, in the existing state of affairs, was adduced the conduct of St. Paul and the advice given to him by St. James and the Church in Jerusalem (Acts xxi. 18-36). Paul was informed that many thousands of Jews "believed," yet remained zealous for the law, the old order. They had learned that Paul advised the Jews in Greece and elsewhere not to "walk after the customs." Paul should prove that "he also kept the law." For this purpose he, with four Christian Jews under a vow, was to purify himself, and he went into the Temple, "until that an offering should be offered for every one of them."

"Offerings," of course, is the term in our version for sacrifices, whether of animals or of "unleavened wafers anointed with oil." The argument from analogy was, I infer, that the Mass, with its wafer, was precisely such an "offering," such a survival in Catholic ritual, as in Jewish ritual St. Paul consented to, by the advice of the Church of Jerusalem; consequently Protestants in a Catholic country, under the existing circumstances, might attend the Mass. The Mass was not "idolatry." The analogy halts, like all analogies, but so, of course, and to fatal results, does Knox's analogy between the foreign worships of Israel and the Mass. "She thinks not that idolatry, but good religion," said Lethington to Knox once, speaking of Queen Mary's Mass. "So thought they that offered their children unto Moloch," retorted the reformer. Manifestly the Mass is, of the two, much more on a level with the "offering" of St. Paul than with human sacrifices to Moloch! {66}

In his reply Knox, as he states his own argument, altogether overlooked the offering of St. Paul, which, as far as we understand, was the essence of his opponents' contention. He said that "to pay vows was never idolatry," but "the Mass from the original was and remained odious idolatry, therefore the facts were most unlike. Secondly, I greatly doubt whether either James's commandment or Paul's obedience proceeded from the Holy Ghost," about which Knox was, apparently, better informed than these Apostles and the Church of Jerusalem. Next, Paul was presently in danger from a mob, which had been falsely told that he took Greeks into the Temple. Hence it was manifest "that God approved not that means of reconciliation." Obviously the danger of an Apostle from a misinformed mob is no sort of evidence to divine approval or disapproval of his behaviour. {67} We shall later find that when Knox was urging on some English nonconformists the beauty of conformity (1568), he employed the very precedent of St. Paul's conduct at Jerusalem, which he rejected when it was urged at Erskine's supper party!

We have dwelt on this example of Knox's logic, because it is crucial. The reform of the Church of Christ could not be achieved without cruel persecution on both parts, while Knox was informing Scotland that all members of the old Faith were as much idolaters as Israelites who sacrificed their children to a foreign God, while to extirpate idolaters was the duty of a Christian prince. Lethington, as he soon showed, was as clear-sighted in regard to Knox's logical methods as any man of to- day, but he "concluded, saying, I see perfectly that our shifts will serve nothing before God, seeing that they stand us in so small stead before man." But either Lethington conformed and went to Mass, or Mary of Guise expected nothing of the sort from him, for he remained high in her favour, till he betrayed her in 1559.

Knox's opinion being accepted--it obviously was a novelty to many of his hearers--the Reformers must either convert or persecute the Catholics even to extermination. Circumstances of mere worldly policy forbade the execution of this counsel of perfection, but persistent "idolaters," legally, lay after 1560 under sentence of death. There was to come a moment, we shall see, when even Knox shrank from the consequences of a theory ("a murderous syllogism," writes one of his recent biographers, Mr. Taylor Innes), which divided his countrymen into the godly, on one hand, and idolaters doomed to death by divine law, on the other. But he put his hesitation behind him as a suggestion of Satan.

Knox now associated with Lord Erskine, then Governor of Edinburgh Castle, the central strength of Scotland; with Lord Lorne, soon to be Earl of Argyll (a "Christian," but not a remarkably consistent walker), with "Lord James," the natural brother of Queen Mary (whose conscience, as we saw, permitted him to draw the benefices of the Abbacy of St. Andrews, of Pittenweem, and of an abbey in France, without doing any duties), and with many redoubtable lairds of the Lothians, Ayrshire, and Forfarshire. He also preached for ten days in the town house, at Edinburgh, of the Bishop of Dunkeld. On May 15, 1556, he was summoned to appear in the church of the Black Friars. As he was backed by Erskine of Dun, and other gentlemen, according to the Scottish custom when legal proceedings were afoot, no steps were taken against him, the clergy probably dreading Knox's defenders, as Bothwell later, in similar circumstances, dreaded the assemblage under the Earl of Moray; as Lennox shrank from facing the supporters of Bothwell, and Moray from encountering the spears of Lethington's allies. It was usual to overawe the administrators of justice by these gatherings of supporters, perhaps a survival of the old "compurgators." This, in fact, was "part of the obligation of our Scottish kyndness," and the divided ecclesiastical and civil powers shrank from a conflict.

Glencairn and the Earl Marischal, in the circumstances, advised Knox to write a letter to Mary of Guise, "something that might move her to hear the Word of God," that is, to hear Knox preach. This letter, as it then stood, was printed in a little black-letter volume, probably of 1556. Knox addresses the Regent and Queen Mother as "her humble subject." The document has an interest almost pathetic, and throws light on the whole character of the great Reformer. It appears that Knox had been reported to the Regent by some of the clergy, or by rumour, as a heretic and seducer of the people. But Knox had learned that the "dew of the heavenly grace" had quenched her displeasure, and he hoped that the Regent would be as clement to others in his case as to him. Therefore he returns to his attitude in the letter to his Berwick congregation (1552). He calls for no Jehu, he advises no armed opposition to the sovereign, but says of "God's chosen children" (the Protestants), that "their victory standeth not in resisting but in suffering," "in quietness, silence, and hope," as the Prophet Isaiah recommends. The Isaiahs (however numerous modern criticism may reckon them) were late prophets, not of the school of Elijah, whom Knox followed in 1554 and 1558-59, not in 1552 or 1555, or on one occasion in 1558-59. "The Elect of God" do not "shed blood and murder," Knox remarks, though he approves of the Elect, of the brethren at all events, when they do murder and shed blood.

Meanwhile Knox is more than willing to run the risks of the preacher of the truth, "partly because I would, with St. Paul, wish myself accursed from Christ, as touching earthly pleasures" (whatever that may mean), "for the salvation of my brethren and illumination of your Grace." He confesses that the Regent is probably not "so free as a public reformation perhaps would require," for that required the downcasting of altars and images, and prohibition to celebrate or attend Catholic rites. Thus Knox would, apparently, be satisfied for the moment with toleration and immunity for his fellow-religionists. Nothing of the sort really contented him, of course, but at present he asked for no more.

Yet, a few days later, he writes, the Regent handed his letter to the Archbishop of Glasgow, saying, "Please you, my Lord, to read a pasquil," an offence which Knox never forgave and bitterly avenged in his "History."

It is possible that the Regent merely glanced at his letter. She would find herself alluded to in a biblical parallel with "the Egyptian midwives," with Nebuchadnezzar, and Rahab the harlot. Her acquaintance with these amiable idolaters may have been slight, but the comparison was odious, and far from tactful. Knox also reviled the creed in which she had been bred as "a poisoned cup," and threatened her, if she did not act on his counsel, with "torment and pain everlasting." Those who drink of the cup of her Church "drink therewith damnation and death." As for her clergy, "proud prelates do Kings maintain to murder the souls for which the blood of Christ Jesus was shed."

These statements were dogmatic, and the reverse of conciliatory. One should not, in attempting to convert any person, begin by reviling his religion. Knox adopted the same method with Mary Stuart: the method is impossible. It is not to be marvelled at if the Regent did style the letter a "pasquil."

Knox took his revenge in his "History" by repeating a foolish report that Mary of Guise had designed to poison her late husband, James V. "Many whisper that of old his part was in the pot, and that the suspicion thereof caused him to be inhibited the Queen's company, while the Cardinal got his secret business sped of that gracious lady either by day or night." {71a} He styled her, as we saw, "a wanton widow"; he hinted that she was the mistress of Cardinal Beaton; he made similar insinuations about her relations with d'Oysel (who was "a secretis mulierum"); he said, as we have seen, that she only waited her chance to cut the throats of all suspected Protestants; he threw doubt on the legitimacy of her daughter, Mary Stuart; and he constantly accuses her of treachery, as will appear, when the charge is either doubtful, or, as far as I can ascertain, absolutely false.

These are unfortunately examples of Knox's Christianity. {71b} It is very easy for modern historians and biographers to speak with genial applause of the prophet's manly bluffness. But if we put ourselves in the position of opponents whom he was trying to convert, of the two Marys for example, we cannot but perceive that his method was hopelessly mistaken. In attempting to evangelise an Euahlayi black fellow, we should not begin by threats of damnation, and by railing accusations against his god, Baiame.


Andrew Lang

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