Knox in the crucial years  1556 - 1560.

Knox had visited Scotland in September 1555. During his stay he preached wherever he could and made contact with the Lords of the Congregation, but was soon in receipt of letters from his congregation in Geneva who desired his speedy return.  Stricken by conscience and mindful of his duty Knox prepared to return; it was about this time that he married Marjory Bowes.  His new wife, her mother Elizabeth, a servant called James and a pupil, Patrick, were sent ahead to Dieppe where Knox joined them for the journey to Geneva. Their names are entered in the Livres des Anglois (the English Book) - the register of the English Church in Geneva, dated 16 September 1656.

At the time of his departure from Edinburgh the Popish clergy summoned him to appear before them. Then, in his absence, they degraded him from priesthood, condemned him as a heretic and burned his effigy. It is likely that Knox expected that this would happen some time although he retaliated by writing his "Apellation" to the Scots nobles against the " cruel and unjust sentence".  In Scotland the hopes of the Congregation for some redress from the Queen Regent were dashed  dramatically by the condemnation and burning of the eighty two year old preacher, Walter Mill, on 28 April 1558. An effigy of Knox was also burnt. The execution of Mill did not, as hoped, terrorise the populace, it merely caused a flurry of oaths and covenants being sworn to defend the persecuted with force of arms. The Congregation, realising that " faggot, fire and sword" was all they would get from the Queen Regent, presented a remonstrance with a petition  seeking reform of the church and state. In particular they sought  liberty to enjoy the private and public ordinances of religion in the Scots tongue. This was allowed provided it was at a distance from Edinburgh. The Queen Regent then charged four ministers with usurping the ministerial office and preaching sedition. In their absence, they were declared guilty and to be forfeited as rebels. Infuriated, the Lords of the Congregation ignored the Regent`s proclamation revoking authority for their meeting and prepared for open defiance.

The `Congregation` had been growing by leaps and bounds and, importantly, amongst the common people, who were prepared to stand up to the Queen Regent. But events elsewhere seemed to turn against them. Critically the Treaty of Cambrai on 12 March 1559 had ended the war between France and England which enabled the diversion of some 4,000 French troops to go to the assistance of the Queen Regent. Meanwhile in Geneva Knox was the author of his own delay in returning to Scotland. He  completed work on his "First Blast of the Trumpet against the monstrous Regiment of Women" which was a learned discourse why, according to the Scriptures, women should not rule - quite a common topic as it happened among the various Divines. It was aimed at Mary Tudor ( "Bloody Mary" ) but she died just after its publication in 1558, and Queen Elizabeth I had taken umbrage at it. In consequence neither Knox nor his colleague Christopher Goodman (author of a similar work "On Obedience to Superior Powers") were welcome in England. Thus prevented from a short journey across the Channel,  Knox was delayed until 22 April 1559  before he set sail from Dieppe for Leith where he arrived on 2 May 1559.

Knox proceeded to Dundee, Scone, and Perth where he preached  fiery sermons. Rather like a dam breaking, the pent up waters of the Reformation movement crashed through the city. The mob, if not encouraged, were certainly not prevented from taking its spite out on the contents of sacred buildings, sweeping away offending altars, crucifixes, pictures and other symbols of Popery. The riches of the Dominican, Franciscan and Carthusian monasteries were carried off and the buildings razed, but the ordinary church buildings were not harmed.  The Queen Regent then threatened retaliation using the French troops who were outside Perth on 24 May. An agreement was reached which included the withdrawal of the French troops, but yet again Mary of Guise reneged on her word. On 31 May Lord James Stewart (later Regent) and the Earl of Argyll had had enough of the Regent`s broken promises and  signed a Covenant in Perth that committed them to the cause of the Congregation. Importantly their accession brought with it some 3000 men at arms to attend a meeting at St Andrews. There Knox preached in the parish church daily from 11 to 14th June, which bore fruit for no less than  twenty one `maisters` - priests, made renunciation of the old faith and profession of the new. Among the people generally there was now the beginnings of a religious crusade. There followed a period of spoiling and razing of religious establishments and the withdrawal of the Queen Regent to Edinburgh, followed by assorted attempts at negotiation. These the Regent protracted and cunningly achieved her purpose of dissipating the Congregations`s supporters for lack of funds to pay their expenses.

There followed a defensive Covenant among the Lords and Barons which was subscribed in Edinburgh on 13 July 1559, followed by another at Stirling on 1st August against consulting with the Queen Regent. In October the Congregation made to proclaim the deposition of the Regent. But the French troops, fresh from murders and devastation in  Leith, still continued their harassment.

With French troops on its borders there was considerable unease in England where it was common knowledge that the destruction of Scottish Protestantism was a prelude  to dethroning Elizabeth in favour of Mary Stuart, Queen of Scotland and France.  Knox wrote a very strong warning to Sir James Croft, Captain of Berwick Castle and Warden of the East Marches. In his letter Knox sought to broker a means for English support. With the Cambrai Treaty so newly signed, England cautiously and very secretly first sent gold to help the Scots. In December 1559 the Duke of Norfolk was appointed Lord Lieutenant in the Northern Counties with instructions to prepare an army to go to the aid of the Scots and expel the French.  On 27 February 1560 the Treaty of Berwick  guaranteed Protestantism in the British Isles whereby Elizabeth  undertook to preserve the freedom of Scotland, which in return  was to aid England if France attacked. By April the French troops were besieged at Leith and another Covenant was sworn on 27th April 1560 declaring

"... we altogidder in generall , and euery ane of us in special, be himselff, with oure bodeis ,guidis, freyndis, and all that we may do , sall sett fordwart the Reformatioun  of Religion , according to Goddes word; and procure, be all means possibill, that the treuth of Goddes word may haif  free passage  within this Realm, ....."

The Regent at long last recognised that defeat stared her in the face. The forty nine signatories to the Covenant were the most powerful landholders in Scotland and the document itself promulgated two new and substantial doctrines:

1. That the people are the custodians of the Word of God, and

2. That the people of Scotland  are the rightful conservators  of their own ancient freedoms and liberties, among which is government by native sovereigns and magistrates, according to use, wont, and the will of the governed.

This clearly delineates that the Protestant - Presbyterian faith was of the peoples choice and that it existed in its own right long before the Church of Scotland was established by law in 1690.

The doctrines also demonstrated that  the trend of affairs was to democracy with the people  against a Crown that was guarded by a foreigner. Whether it was too much for Mary of Guise cannot be determined, but she died quite suddenly on 10 June 1560. The Treaty of Edinburgh concluded on 6 July saw the French troops depart on English ships and the Scottish Reformers in a land relieved of Papacy. With a discredited Church, a defeated foe, a dead Regent and an absent sovereign it was not difficult for the Congregation  to have the Reformed Faith  legally recognised by the Estates of Parliament.

In a short space of just four days Knox and colleagues, collectively referred to as the six Johns—Knox, Spottiswoode, Willock, Row, Douglas and Winram—produced the First Book of Faith. This gave a creed to the new Church and, amongst other things, justified the action taken by the Congregation. The First Book of Faith, or Confession of Faith and Doctrine, contained a preface, twenty-five articles and a conclusion. It was the doctrinal standard of the Church in Scotland for eighty-six years until the Westminster Confession of Faith was adopted in 1647. The First Book of Discipline contained nine articles, which dealt with the structure of the new church, sacraments, stipends, appointments of elders and deacons, etc., and was presented to the Estates in January 1561. Andrew Melville presented his revision, the Second Book of Discipline, to the General Assembly in 1578 which it adopted.  The Book of Discipline ordered the appointment of ten superintendents in the place of bishops. They were not necessarily ordained, could not ordain others and had no independent jurisdiction; but had a watching and inspection brief more on the lines of a works foreman or school inspector.  They were quite specifically temporary appointments through expediency in the early years of the Church. However, the title and role would be an issue in years to follow and was a chink in the armour for the reintroduction of episcopacy by James VI.

The Estates passed three acts on 24 August 1560:

  • The first abolished Papal authority and that of the Catholic prelates.  

  • The second annulled previous legislation that was contrary to the new creed. 

  • The third abolished the Mass and ordered punishments for saying, hearing or being present at a Mass.

The latter act provided that for the first offence it would result in confiscation of property and physical punishment. The second offence would result in banishment. And death for the third offence. It sounds most vindictive but the penalties were drawn up by lay men, not the Church, and death was the same penalty for shooting wild geese and game.

The Acts were implemented instantaneously and pastors, teachers, and officials loyal to the old regime were ejected from their positions. Absolutely nothing, save the physical buildings stripped to the bare stone, was taken over by the new Church. So deeply was the religion cleansed that for nineteen years bibles had to be imported from England, with the first Scottish version printed by Arbuthnot and Bassandyne in 1576-1579 largely unavailable.

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