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Knox, John (c. 1513–1572)

KNOX, JOHN (c. 15131572)

KNOX, JOHN (c. 15131572), Scottish church reformer. Born in Haddington (Lothian), Knox studied at Glasgow University and probably also at St. Andrews. After his ordination to the priesthood in 1536, he became a notary apostolic (a church lawyer); as tutor to Lothian gentry, the Douglases and Cockburns, he met the Scottish reformer George Wishart and was converted to evangelical views around 1545. When Wishart was burned at the stake in 1546, Knox took refuge with the Protestant garrison in St. Andrew's Castle and began his preaching career. Although he had not been involved in the garrison's murder of Cardinal David Beaton, when the French captured the castle in July 1547, he was taken to France and made a galley slave, which permanently undermined his health. After his release in 1549, he went to England, where he actively promoted official Protestant changes, first in the northeast; he inevitably came into conflict with the conservative bishop of Durham Cuthbert Tunstall, but also captivated an enthusiastic evangelical gentlewoman, Elizabeth Bowes. In autumn 1551 he was made a royal chaplain, and John Dudley, duke of Northumberland, brought him south, probably hoping to exploit his religious radicalism to strip the church of its wealth. However, their relations deteriorated, and Knox was among the leading clergy who in early 1553 denounced politicians' worldliness. He failed to persuade the Privy Council to modify the 1552 Book of Common Prayer to forbid kneeling at holy communion, although his protests prompted Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas Cranmer to insert a last-minute instruction (the "black rubric") explaining that kneeling did not signify adoration of the bread and wine.

Mary I's accession in 1553 interrupted Knox's preaching ministry in Buckinghamshire. He fled abroad, followed by Elizabeth Bowes (who abandoned her Catholic husband) and her daughter Marjorie, whom he soon married. Knox championed thoroughgoing Calvinist reform among English exiles at Frankfurt am Main, resulting in his expulsion in 1555; he returned to John Calvin's Geneva, which he called "the most perfect school of Christ on earth since the days of the Apostles." In 15551556 he made a clandestine preaching tour in Scotland; back in Geneva in 1556 he drew up a directory of worship for the English congregation, the basis of the Church of Scotland's Book of Common Order. After Scottish bishops burned him in effigy in Edinburgh, he abandoned a planned return visit to Scotland in 1557. His attack on the two Catholic rulers Mary Tudor in England and Mary of Guise in Scotland, The First Blast of the Trumpet against the Monstrous Regiment of Women (1558), asserted that it was unnatural ("monstrous") for women to hold political power ("regiment"). Unfortunately this soon also applied to the Protestant Elizabeth I. Furious, she ended Knox's hopes of resuming his English career, refusing even to let him pass through England on his way back to Scotland. He was appointed minister of Edinburgh in 1559. He became the most prominent clerical leader of the Protestant and anti-French revolution and successfully pressed Elizabeth's adviser, William Cecil, Lord Burghley, for English military support. In August 1560 he was one of a team of ministers ("the six Johns") who drew up a Confession of Faith for the Kirk (the new Protestant Church of Scotland); they also prepared a scheme to reorganize the Kirk on Calvinist lines, the first Book of Discipline, which, because of political uncertainty and lack of resources, was not fully implemented. From 1561 he bitterly opposed Mary, Queen of Scots and preached violent sermons against her; after she was deposed in 1567, he preached at her son's coronation as James VI. He also preached at the funeral of the murdered regent James Stewart, earl of Moray, in 1570, but Stewart's death and the resulting civil war lessened his influence. One of his last contributions to the Reformation cause was, in spite of having suffered a stroke, to preach one of his classic sermons on the St. Bartholomew's Day massacre of French Protestants.

Knox's History of the Reformation of Religion within the Realm of Scotland (published 1587, then in full in 1644) remains an essential witness to the Reformation although it carefully conceals much of his own early career. He is a potent symbol of a militant and uncompromisingly Presbyterian Scottish Reformation, yet with his English wife and live-in mother-in-law, he was more Anglophile and flexible than either his detractors or his Presbyterian near-idolators have recognized. The contemporary Roman Catholic controversialist Ninian Winzet sneered at Knox that he had forgotten "our auld plane Scottis quhilk your mother lerit you" because his language was so Anglicized: at the height of the Scottish political crisis in 1566, he spent six mysterious months in England of which we know nothing. Without the accidents of English politics, John Knox might well have become the first in a long troop of Scotsmen to end up a bishop of the Church of England.

See also Calvinism ; Church of England ; Elizabeth I (England) ; Reformation, Protestant ; Scotland.


Primary Source

Knox, John. The Works of John Knox. Edited by David Laing. 6 vols. Edinburgh, 18461864. Reprint, New York, 1966.

Secondary Sources

Mason, Roger A., ed. John Knox and the British Reformation. Aldershot, U.K., and Brookfield, Vt., 1998.

Ridley, Jasper. John Knox. Oxford, 1968.

Diarmaid MacCulloch

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