The First Blast of the Trumpet against the Monstrous Regiment of Women.

 " To promote a woman to bear rule, superiority, dominion . or empire, above any realm, nation, or city, is repugnant to nature, contumely to God, a thing most contrarious to his revealed will and approved ordinance, and finally  it is a subversion of all equity and justice. "

 The babblers of political correctness would have had a field day with John Knox `s First Blast of the Trumpet against the Monstrous Regiment of Women which was a vehement attack on the `practice of admitting females to the government of nations`  Yet again though, it has to be viewed in the light of the times in which the woman`s role was in the home and  raising children. In the mid sixteenth century there was intense philosophical debate about the role of women and Knox had discussed with Swiss Divines the biblical origins for their role.  Moreover, their was ample earlier evidence on the issue eg Tacitus had expressed contempt of those submitting to female rule; in France women were excluded from the succession ( the misquoted Salic Law which applied to land ownership)  and even Edward  VI of England had discussed it with the Privy Council  but was prevented from implementing it in England by the ambitious closet-catholic and Regent, the Duke of Northumberland,

In essence the First Blast published in 1558 was prompted by the murderous activities of Mary Tudor, a zealous Catholic and revengeful for many years isolation, who succeeded to the throne of England ( r 1553-8). She was responsible for the executions of over 300 Protestants as part of her violent campaign to revert England to the rule of the Pope.. She died soon after its publication and it came to be regarded as an attack also on Elizabeth I as well as  Mary of Guise, the Queen Regent of Scotland (died 1560), and then Mary Queen of Scots.  It was no more than a statement that the divine law  had expressly assigned to man the dominion over women and commanded her to be subject to him; that female government was not allowed under the Jews; that it was contrary to apostolical  injunctions; and led to perversion of government. There were several leading figures who subscribed to this view including James Kennedy, Archbishop of St Andrews, and Sir David Lyndsay.

A staunch supporter was Knox`s co preacher in Geneva, Christopher Goodman, who published his own  "Obedience to Superior Powers". The son of Adam Goodman, merchant, and Selay Linge of Chester, Christopher lectured on Divinity at Oxford during Edward VI`s reign. When Mary came to the throne he went first to Strasbourg and then Frankfort. The congregation at Frankfort desired changes to the English service and he, with some of like minded persons went to Geneva where he was chosen joint minister with Knox. In 1558 he published "How superior powers ought to be obeyed: of their subjects, and wherein they may lawfully by God`s word be disobeyed and resisted. Wherein is also declared  the cause of all this  present miserie in England, and the onely way to remedy the same." In this he subscribed to the opinions expressed by Knox. He maintained that the power of kings and magistrates was limited, and that they might lawfully be resisted, deposed, and punished by their subjects , if they became tyrannical and wicked. Goodman was not the only critic within the English Church - Dr John Poent, bishop of Rochester and later Winchester under Edward VI, wrote a treatise  " A Short Treatise of Politique Pouuer, and of the True Obedience which Subjectes owe to Kynges" in which he discussed  the origin of political authority, , its absolute  or limited nature,  the limits of obedience and the deposition and punishment of tyrants. Interestingly this book was reprinted in 1642 during the reign of Charles I - the first ruling king executed by his subjects in 1649.

  McCrie in Life of Knox observes that the publication of these works and debate about them coincidentally took place as the new Queen Elizabeth I took her throne. In a letter of October 1559 Sir William Cecill writing from the Court , said, "Of all others, Knoxees name, if it be not Goodman`s, is most odious here" The sale of both publications was prohibited and prompted a reply to the First Blast by John Aylmer ( later Bishop) , a refugee on the continent who had been archdeacon of Stowe, and tutor to Lady Jane Grey, entitled "An Harborow for Faithful Subjects". It was written "the better to obtain the favour of the new queen, and take off any jealousy she might conceive of them, and of the religion they professed."

Knox`s mistake, if indeed there was one,  was to allow the principals to be applied generally rather than to confine it to Mary Tudor  whose rule was recognised  by  Aylmer as " Unnatural, unreasonable, unjust  and unlawful` and would not have been out of place" had he confined himself to criticising the actions of Queen Mary he could have said nothing too much, nor in such wise as to have offended  any indifferent man."  Aylmer varied somewhat in his defence and softened views that pleased the queen, yet even so, his language was stronger than Knox`s at times. He wrote "Some women be wise, better learned, discreater. constanter, than a number of men; " but others he describes as  "fond, foolish, wanton, flibbergibs, tatlers, trifling, wavering,witles, withoutcounsel, feable, carles,rashe, proud, daintie, nise, tale-bearers, evesdroppers, rumour-raisers, evil tongued, worse-minded, and, in everywise, doltified with the dregges of the devil`s doungehill."

John Foxe, author of his Book of Martyrs, gently chastised Knox for his impropriety  and the savagery of its language. But Knox in his reply made no excuses and reaffirmed  "he was still persuaded of the principal proposition which he had maintained."  His original intention was to blow his trumpet three times and to disclose himself as author in the final part to prevent odium falling on anybody else. However, he wanted to support Elizabeth I rather than weaken her position, and did not make further blasts.

Subsequently both Goodman and Knox were prevailed upon to humble themselves for their outspokeness.  Goodman twice recanted but gained no favours from Queen Elizabeth and Knox did write, in a stumbling way, to the Queen. But it is very likely she never saw it as her Secretary, Sir William Cecil, routinely kept distressing correspondence from her. 


Home Scottish Reformation The Covenanters Ulster Scots English Reformation European Reformation General Topics & Glossary My Books & Bibliography Contact