John Knox: Life Story

Chapter 19 : The Queen is Deposed

Knox himself was now settled back in Edinburgh with his young wife, who, like Marjorie, rapidly became involved in helping him with his copious correspondence and parish duties. Together, they had three daughters and were at the centre of the social life of Protestant Edinburgh. The rigid sabbatarianism and puritanism of the later Presbyterian church does not seem to have been a feature of Knox’s life, and he liked to entertain his friends, and be merry.

The Queen was forced to abdicate in favour of her son, who was crowned James VI in Stirling. Knox preached the sermon at the coronation. In the Parliament that opened immediately after the coronation, Moray, as Regent, ratified the Acts implementing Protestantism that the 1560 Parliament had passed, but which Mary had never ratified. Knox finally saw the Reformed faith confirmed as the official state religion of Scotland.

Nevertheless, he could not banish the spectre of Mary re-establishing herself, and preached against her whenever he entered the pulpit – which was most days. He also feared that the Duke of Châtelherault, who had vacillated between support for Mary and promoting his own interests, would work to have her reinstated.

In this, Knox was correct. The Hamilton clan en masse worked to restore Mary, and the country was divided between the Queen’s Party, and the King’s Party. Mary herself was in England, imprisoned by Elizabeth, who would neither support her in a bid to regain the throne, nor yet hand her over to the Scots government.

Knox continued to urge the English to dispatch Mary, and after the Rebellion of the Northern Earls in 1569, believing Elizabeth would be more open to pressure, he wrote to Cecil, urging that action be taken against the Scottish Queen – ‘If ye strike not the roots, the branches that appear to be broken will bud again…

He was also worried about the position of Moray, and, with his ear to the ground, caught rumours of a plot against the Regent. His urgent warnings were ignored, and Moray was assassinated by one of the Hamilton clan. Knox, along with many others, was devastated at the loss of the man with whom he had been associated for so many years in their efforts to bring the Reformed faith to Scotland.  The last service he could give his old colleague was to preach the funeral sermon.

In general, the Reformers were not inclined to excessive displays at funerals, lest it be reminiscent of the Catholic practice of prayers for the dead, but in this case, Knox preached to an enormous crowd, extolling the virtues of ‘the Good Regent’.

In the early autumn of 1570, Knox suffered a stroke. He improved sufficiently to return to the pulpit – defying those who thought that God was silencing him as a punishment – but never fully recovered.

The situation in Scotland deteriorated, as the new Regent, the Earl of Lennox, grandfather to King James VI, took office. Disputes between the King’s Party and the Queen’s Party became more serious, and former friends of Knox’s, including Sir William Kirkcaldy of Grange, who had been one of the Castilians, back in 1546, declared for the Queen. Knox was appalled – seeing this not just as treachery to King James, but as an affront to God.

The Queen’s Party, besieged in Edinburgh Castle, named one of their guns ‘Knox’, because it made so much noise. Knox, however, had the last laugh when the gun exploded, killing some of them. This gave fuel to those who saw mockers of Knox as mockers of God. Knox continued to pour oil on the flames of the civil unrest, continually urging the execution of Mary, making any accommodation between the two sides harder.