John Knox, his formative years.

Knox was born in 1505 probably in the village of Gifford, near Haddington, Midlothian. His father was descended from an ancient family who owned the lands of Knock, Ranferly and Craigends in Renfrewshire. His mother was a Sinclair.  He was educated at Glasgow University where he had John Mair or Major, as professor of philosophy and theology and tutor. Major taught  that the Pope was inferior to a General Council and that it might judge, rebuke, restrain and even depose him. In civil administration he taught that the authority of kings and princes  were originally derived from the people; that they were not superior; and that if rulers became tyrannical, or abuse their powers, they might be lawfully controlled by the people. Such control might be to depose them and tyrants  might be proceeded against by the justiciary, even to capital punishment. That these sentiments were being expressed as early as 1517 and subsequently at St Andrews in 1523 is remarkable - over a century before the latter principal was put into action by the execution of Charles I in 1649.

Knox`s companion in his studies was the eminent George Buchanan but they went in different scholastic directions. Buchanan inclined to literature and poesy and Knox took to secular learning and the labours of a sacred ministry. About 1530 he was inducted as a priest in the Church of Rome but does not appear to have been given a specific jurisdiction as required under canon law. This meant that he could not preach according to the rites of that Church. However, very early on Knox took  an interest in the original works of Jerome and Augustine which led him to the Scriptures  as the divine truth and by 1535 he was pursuing a different theology. It was not until about 1542 that he professed himself a Protestant.

The reformed doctrine in Scotland had already shown itself in the likes of Patrick Hamilton before it was embraced by Knox. By 1540 the doctrine was being adopted by the common people as well as a host of influential persons and nobles including  William, Earl of Glencairn; his son  Alexander, Lord Kilmaurs; William Earl of Errol; William Lord Ruthven; his daughter Lillias, wife of the Master of Drummond; John Stewart, son of Lord Methven; Sir James Sandilands; Sir David Lyndsay; Campbell of Cessnock; Erskine of Dun;  Melville of Raith;  Balnaves of Halhill; Straiton of Lauriston and the advocates William Johnston and Robert Alexander. These supporters of the evangel were among over a hundred whom the clergy denounced as heretics to James V and sought to proceed against them. However, James V died on 13 December 1542 before action against them could be authorised.

Knox was particularly a devotee of George Wishart and became his sword bearer following a threat on his life in Dundee. Wishart was impressed with the zeal of his young companion and on the night of his seizure by Bothwell (on the instruction of Cardinal Beaton) ordered his sword to be taken from Knox. When Knox sought to go with him to Ormiston he was told by Wishart " Nay return to your bairnes" [ meaning his pupils]  " and God bless you, ane [ one ] is sufficient for a sacrifice."

Knox taught for a while in St Andrews and was tutor to the family of Hugh Douglas of Langniddrie and the son of John Cockburn of Ormiston. These connections stayed any action by the Papists following the murder of Cardinal Beaton, but pressures mounted on Knox and his co religionist John Rough who were pursued for alleged heresy. Rough departed into England while Knox remained at St Andrews teaching in the castle that had been seized earlier. He was there when a French fleet and a body of land forces arrived in June 1547 . Generally the Scots were treated reasonably well but Knox was taken on board ship to Rouen where he was transferred to the galleys. Here he was heaped in chains and abused as heretics. From Rouen the galleys went to Nantes where they over wintered. While here

"Solicitations, threatenings,  and violence were all employed  to induce the prisoners to change their religion , or at least to countenance the popish worship "

An incident involving Knox occurred when a fine painted image of the Virgin was brought to the galley and it was desired that a Scottish prisoner should kiss the image in adoration. An attempt was made to make Knox kiss it and he was roughly handled as the image was forced towards his mouth. But breaking free he grasped the image and threw it into the river saying

 "Lat our Ladie now save hirself sche is lycht enoughe, lat hir leirne to swyme."

The image was retrieved from the river with some difficulty;  it ensured that the prisoners were not further troubled by the pettiness of the papal representatives.

In 1548 Knox was still a prisoner in the galleys when he and others were released and returned to Scotland and St Andrews. By then he was ill and suffering with a fever but he prophetically commented while gazing at the spires of St Andrews, that  "I shall not depart this life, till that my tongue shall glorify  his godly name in the same place. " After nineteen months of imprisonment Knox gained his release in February 1549. How this came about seems to be in doubt, some say the galley he was on was captured in the English Channel; another version was that he was found not guilty of involvement in the murder of Beaton and ordered to be released by the King of France.  A third and most likely reason was that the marriage of Mary Queen of Scots to the French Dauphin had been agreed. She was physically in France with the Guise family, and the Court were no longer concerned at the quarrels and revenge taking of the clergy having gained a greater prize. Knox  immediately went to England.

Next: Knox in England

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