John Knox: Life Story

Chapter 14 : Establishing God's Kingdom

In January 1560, substantive English aid, in the form of a fleet, arrived in the Firth of Forth, to be greeted with jubilation by the Lords of the Congregation, who had been fighting all winter, and losing ground to Marie. In April, an English army crossed the border and was welcomed by the Protestants of the district – the first time an English army had been a welcome sight in that war-torn land.

Marie still held Leith, but she was dying. She was reconciled at the last with her step-son, Lord James, but there was no reconciliation in the heart of Knox. He denounced her in death as in life, and prevented her receiving a Catholic funeral.

Knox preached a great sermon of thanksgiving in St Giles’ Kirk, in Edinburgh, exhorting the Scots to stand firm in their faith, to avoid the horrors that apostasy in England had called down (the persecution of Protestants under Mary) and praising the ‘godly league’ with the English. The Scots had, of course, only been delivered from idolatry and darkness by crying to God, who had saved them, of His mercy.

With Marie’s death, Cecil came to Edinburgh to negotiate a final settlement between Scotland, England and France. English and French troops were to withdraw and a Regency Council was to be chosen by Queen Mary (still in France) and the Scottish Lords. This was the Treaty of Edinburgh, which Queen Mary later categorically refused to ratify. Châtelherault was the nominal Regent, aided by Lord James.  

Now that the battle against the anti-Christ had been won, Knox could turn to the establishment of a godly society in Scotland, as Calvin had in Geneva. During Knox’ years in Geneva, the English congregation there had produced the Geneva Bible and Psalter, and also an agreed form of worship that was aligned to the Reformed Confessions of the Swiss cities and the French Huguenots, rather than the Lutheran Augsburg Confession.

Knox, appointed by the Lords as the minister for Edinburgh, now worked as part of a team to produce a ‘Confession of Faith’ for implementation in Scotland.  It was completed by August 1560, and introduced by the Reformation Parliament, as it was called. The Confession of Faith was mandatory, Papal authority in Scotland was ended, and it became an offence to hear the Catholic mass, with a third offence to bear the death penalty.

Once the principles of the Protestant religion were in place, Knox and the rest of the committee began on the ‘First Book of Discipline’ that was to organise the structure of the new Kirk in Scotland, based on superintendents, preachers called by the congregation, and the maintenance of moral standards within the congregation, to be monitored by disciplinary sessions.

During the early winter of 1560, Knox suffered a devastating blow when his wife, Marjorie, died. She and their children had returned to Scotland late the previous year, after St Andrew’s had become firmly controlled by the Lords of the Congregation, and had proved a most valuable help to her husband. He was deeply upset by her death and mourned her sincerely. He found it difficult to manage the practical matters of fatherhood without his wife, and his mother-in-law, Elizabeth Bowes, took up residence in his household from 1562.

Knox was not the only one to be widowed in 1561. In early December of that year, King François II of France, husband of Queen Mary, and titular King of Scots, died. Knox, receiving the news early, hurried to inform Châtelherault and Lord James. Whilst he mourned his own wife, he saw the loss of the Queen’s husband as a godsend.

Also during that autumn, the first General Assembly of the Kirk of Scotland met. It was initially just the representatives of a small group of parishes which had warmly embraced the Reformed faith. The members divided the clergy into those who could be incorporated into the Kirk, and those who persisted in Catholicism. But matters were not so straightforward. With many of the nobles having friends and family in Church benefices, the idea that the Kirk could simply take over parish churches and the financial structure of the old regime was never going to be accepted.

This idea of the transfer of the wealth and possessions of the old Church to the new Kirk was included in the First Book of Discipline. When the book was presented to the Parliament that was called in January 1561 to decide on the actions to be taken in the light of François’ death, it was not accepted in full. Knox was furious, attributing the rejection to the greed of the nobles.

The reality was, that the Church in Scotland was the provider of much of the money that the government needed to run the country, and the lords wanted it transferred to the Crown, partly for governmental purposes, but no doubt seeing some of it coming their way, as had occurred in England with the Dissolution of the Monasteries.

The Book of Discipline was approved, although not in its entirety, on 27th January, and sworn to at the Tolbooth. But in Knox’s view, things were about to go from bad to worse – there were not just backsliders in Parliament, but the Queen was intending to return from France, to take up personal rule.