John Knox The Reformers And The Turbulent Nobles

Mary had been only a few days in Scotland when she was painfully reminded

of the excited and dangerous state of feeling which then prevailed on the

important subject of Religion. Her great and leading desire was to

conciliate all parties, and to preserve, unbroken, the public peace. With

this view she had issued proclamations, charging her subjects to conduct

themselves quietly; and announcing her intention to make no alteration in

the form of religion as existing in the country at her arrival.

Notwithstanding these precautions, the first breach of civil order took

place at the very Palace of Holyroodhouse. Mary had intimated her

intention to attend the celebration of a solemn mass in her chapel, on

Sunday the 24th of August, 1561, the first Sunday she spent in Scotland.

The Reformers, as soon as they got the upper hand, had prohibited this

service under severe penalties, and these principles of intolerance they

were determined to maintain. Mary had not interfered with their mode of

worship; but this was not enough;--they considered themselves called upon

to interfere with hers. In anticipation of the mass, for which she had

given orders, the godly, Knox tells us, met together and said,--"Shall

that idol be suffered again to take place within this realm? It shall

not." They even repented that they had not pulled down the chapel itself

at the time they had demolished most of the other religious houses; for

the sparing of any place where idols were worshipped was, in their

opinion, "the preserving the accursed thing." When Sunday arrived, a crowd

collected on the outside of the chapel; and Lord Lindsay, whose bigotry

has been already mentioned, called out with fiery zeal,--"The idolatrous

priests shall die the death, according to God's law." The Catholics were

insulted as they entered the chapel, and the tumult increased so much,

that they feared to commence the service. At length, the Lord James, whose

superior discrimination taught him, that his party, by pushing things to

this extremity, were doing their cause more harm than good, stationed

himself at the door, and declared he would allow no evil-disposed person

to enter. His influence with the godly was such, that they ventured not to

proceed to violence against his will. He was a good deal blamed, however,

by Knox for his conduct. When the service was concluded, Lord James's two

brothers were obliged to conduct the priests home, as a protection to them

from the insults of the people; and in the afternoon, crowds collected in

the neighbourhood of the palace, who, by their disloyal language and

turbulent proceedings, signified to the Queen their disapprobation, that

she had dared to worship her God in the manner which seemed to herself

most consistent, both with the revealed and natural law. Many of Mary's

friends, who had accompanied her from France, were so disgusted with the

whole of this scene, that they announced their intention of returning

sooner than they might otherwise have done. "Would to God," exclaims Knox,

"that altogether, with the mass, they had taken good-night of the realm

for ever!"

On the following Sunday, Knox took the opportunity of preaching, what

Keith might have termed, another "thundering sermon" against idolatry. In

this discourse he declared, that one mass was more fearful to him than ten

thousand armed enemies would be, landed in any part of the realm on

purpose to suppress the whole religion. No one will deny, that the earlier

Reformers of this and all other countries would, naturally and properly,

look upon Popish rites with far greater abhorrence than is done by the

strictest Protestants of more modern times. Nor is it wonderful that the

ablest men among them, (and John Knox was one of those), should have given

way so far to the feelings of the age, as to be unable to draw the exact

line of distinction between the improvements of the new gospel, and the

imperfections of the old. The faith which they established, was of a

purer, simpler, and better kind than that from which they were converted.

Yet, making all these allowances, there does seem to have been something

unnecessarily overbearing and illiberal in the spirit which animated Knox

and some of his followers. When contrasted with the mildness of Mary at

least, and even with the greater moderation observed in some of the other

countries of Europe, where the Reformation was making no less rapid

progress, the anti-Catholic ardor of the good people of Scotland must be

allowed to have over-stepped considerably the just limits of Christian

forbearance. It is useful also to observe the inconsistencies which still

existed in the Reformed faith. Whilst the Catholic religion was

reprobated, Catholic customs springing out of that religion do not seem to

have called forth any censure. On the very day on which Knox preached the

sermon already mentioned, a great civic banquet was given by the city of

Edinburgh to Mary's uncles, the Duke Danville, and other of her French

friends; and, generally speaking, Sunday was, throughout the country, the

favourite day for festivities of all kinds.

The mark of attention paid to her relations pleased Mary, but her pleasure

was rendered imperfect, by perceiving how powerful and unlooked for an

enemy both she and they had in John Knox. Aware of the liberal manner in

which she had treated him and his party, she thought it hard that he

should so unremittingly exert his influence to stir up men's minds against

her. That this influence was of no insignificant kind, is attested by very

sufficient evidence. Knox was not a mere polemical churchman. His friends

and admirers intrusted to him their temporal as well as spiritual

interests. He was often selected as an umpire in civil disputes of

importance; and persons whom the Town-council had determined to punish for

disorderly conduct, were continually requesting his intercession in their

behalf. When differences fell out even among the nobility, he was not

uncommonly employed to adjust them. He was besides, at that time, the only

established clergyman in Edinburgh who taught the Reformed doctrines.

There was a minister in the Canongate, and another in the neighbouring

parish of St Cuthberts, but Knox was the minister of Edinburgh. He

preached in the church of St Giles, which was capable of holding three

thousand persons. To this numerous audience he held forth twice every

Sunday, and thrice on other days during the week. He was regular too in

his attendance at the meetings of the Synod and the General Assembly, and

was frequently commissioned to travel through the country to disseminate

gospel truth. In 1563, but not till then, a colleague was appointed to


Animated by a sincere desire to soften if possible our Reformer's austere

temper, Mary requested that he might be brought into her presence two days

after he had delivered his sermon against idolatry. Knox had no objection

whatever to this interview. To have it granted him at all would show his

friends the importance attached to his character and office; and from the

manner in which he determined to carry himself through it, he hoped to

strengthen his reputation for bold independence of sentiment, and

undeviating adherence to his principles. This was so far well; but Knox

unfortunately mingled rudeness with his courage, and stubbornness with his


Mary opened the conversation by expressing her surprise that he should

have formed so very unfavourable an opinion of herself; and requested to

know what could have induced him to commence his calumnies against her so

far back as 1559, when he published his book upon the "monstrous

government of women." Knox answered, that learned men in all ages

considered their judgments free, and that, if these judgments sometimes

differed from the common judgment of mankind, they were not to blame. He

then ventured to compare his "First Blast of the Trumpet" to Plato's work

"On the Commonwealth," observing, with much self-complacency, that both

these books contained many new sentiments. He added, that what he had

written was directed most especially against Mary--"that wicked Jezabel of

England." The Queen, perceiving that this was a mere subterfuge, said, "Ye

speak of women in general." Knox confessed that he did so, but again went

the length of assuring her, though the assurance seems to involve a

contradiction, that he had said nothing "intended to trouble her estate."

Satisfied with this concession, Mary proceeded to ask, why he could not

teach the people a new religion without exciting them to hold in contempt

the authority of their Sovereign? Knox found it necessary to answer this

question in a somewhat round-about manner. "If all the seed of Abraham,"

said he, "should have been of the religion of Pharaoh, what religion

should there have been in the world? Or if all men, in the days of the

Roman Emperors, should have been of the religion of the Roman Emperors,

what religion should have been on the face of the earth? Daniel and his

fellows were subject to Nebuchadnezzar and unto Darius, and yet they would

not be of their religion." "Yea," replied Mary promptly, "but none of

these men raised the sword against their princes." "Yet you cannot deny

that they resisted," said Knox, refining a little too much; "for those who

obey not the commandment given them, do in some sort resist." "But yet,"

said the Queen, perceiving the quibble, "they resisted not with the

sword." The Reformer felt that he had been driven into a corner, and

determined to get out of it at whatever cost. "God, Madam," said he, "had

not given unto them the power and the means." "Think ye," asked Mary,

"that subjects having the power may resist their princes?" "If princes

exceed their bounds, Madam," said Knox, evidently departing from the

point, "no doubt they may be resisted even by power." He proceeded to

fortify this opinion with arguments of no very loyal kind; and Mary,

overcome by a rudeness and presumption she had been little accustomed to,

was for some time silent. Nay, Randolph, in one of his letters, affirms

that he "knocked so hastily upon her heart that he made her weep." At

length she said, "I perceive then that my subjects shall obey you, and not

me, and will do what they please, and not what I command; and so must I be

subject to them, and not they to me." Knox answered, that a subjection

unto God and his Church was the greatest dignity that flesh could enjoy

upon the face of the earth, for it would raise it to everlasting glory.

"But you are not the Church that I will nourish," said Mary; "I will

defend the Church of Rome, for it is, I think, the true Church of God."

Knox's coarse and discourteous answer shows that he was alike ignorant of

the delicacy with which, in this argument, he should have treated a

lady, and of the respect a queen was entitled to demand. "Your will,

Madam," said he, "is no reason; neither doth your thought make the Roman

harlot to be the true and immaculate spouse of Jesus Christ. Wonder not,

Madam, that I call Rome a harlot, for that Church is altogether polluted

with all kinds of spiritual fornication, both in doctrine and manners."

Whilst this speech must have deeply wounded the feelings of Mary, a

sincere Catholic as she was, it cannot entitle the Reformer to any praise

on the score of its bravery and independence. Knox knew that the whole

country would, in a few days, be full of his conference with the Queen. By

yielding to her, he had nothing to gain; and, as his reputation was his

dearest possession, he hoped to increase it by an unmanly display of his

determined zeal. Mary, perceiving what sort of a man she had to deal

with, soon afterwards broke off the conversation.

On the same day that the Queen gave Knox this audience, she made her first

public entry into Edinburgh. She rode up the Canongate and High Street, to

the Castle, where a banquet had been prepared for her. She was greeted, as

she passed along, with every mark of respect and loyalty; and pains had

been taken to give to the whole procession, as striking and splendid an

air as possible. The Town had issued proclamations, requiring the citizens

to appear in their best attire, and advising the young men to assume a

uniform, that they might make "the convoy before the court more

triumphant." When Mary left the castle after dinner, on her way back, a

pageant which had been prepared was exhibited on the Castle Hill. The

Reformers could not allow this opportunity to pass, without reminding her

that she was now in a country where their authority was paramount. The

greater part of this pageant, represented the terrible vengeance of God

upon idolaters. It was even, at one time, intended to have had a priest

burned in effigy; but the Earl of Huntly declared, he would not allow so

gross an insult to be offered to his sovereign.

Soon after paying this compliment to the City of Edinburgh, Mary

determined upon making a progress through the country, that she and her

subjects might become better acquainted with each other. She made this

progress upon horseback, accompanied by a pretty numerous train. There

appears at the time to have been only one wheeled carriage in Scotland. It

was a chariot, (as it is called in the treasurer's books), probably of a

rude enough construction, which Margaret of England brought with her when

she married James IV. Mary, no doubt, knew that it would have been rather

adventurous to have attempted travelling on the Scotch roads of that day

in so frail and uncertain a vehicle. It is not, however, to be supposed,

that a Queen such as Mary, with her Lords and Ladies well-mounted around

her, could pass through her native country without being the object of

universal admiration, even without the aid of so wonderful a piece of

mechanism as a coach or a chariot. Her first stage was to the palace at

Linlithgow. Here she remained a day or two, and then proceeded to

Stirling. On the night of her arrival there, she made a very narrow

escape. As she lay in bed asleep, a candle, that was burning beside her,

set fire to the curtains; and had the light and heat not speedily awakened

her, when she immediately exerted her usual presence of mind, she might

have been burned to death. The populace said at the time, that this was

the fulfilment of a very old prophecy, that a Queen should be burned at

Stirling. It was only the bed, however, not the Queen that was burned, so

that the prophet must have made a slight mistake. On the Sunday she spent

at Stirling, the Lord James, finding perhaps, that his former apparent

defence of the mass, had hurt his reputation among the Reformers,

corrected the error by behaving with singular impropriety in the Royal

chapel. He was assisted by the Lord Justice General, the Earl of Argyle,

in conjunction with whom he seems to have come to actual blows with the

priests. This affair was considered good sport by many. "But there were

others," says Randolph, alluding probably to Mary, "that shed a tear or

two." "It was reserved," Chalmer's remarks, "for the Prime Minister and

the Justice General, to make a riot in the house which had been

dedicated to the service of God, and to obstruct the service in the

Queen's presence."

Leaving Stirling, Mary spent a night at Lesly Castle, the seat of the Earl

of Rothes, a Catholic nobleman. On the 16th of September she entered

Perth. She was everywhere welcomed with much apparent satisfaction; but in

the midst of their demonstrations of affection, her subjects always took

care to remind her that they were Presbyterians, and that she was a

Papist. In the very pious town of Perth, pageants greeted her arrival

somewhat similar to those which had been exhibited to her on the Castle

Hill at Edinburgh. Mary was not a little affected by observing this

constant determination to wound her feelings. In riding through the

streets of Perth, she became suddenly faint, and was carried from her

horse to her lodging. Her acute sensibility often produced similar effects

upon her health, although the cause was not understood by the unrefined

multitude. With St Andrews, the seat of the Commendatorship of the Lord

James, she seems to have been most pleased, and remained there several

days. She returned to Edinburgh by the end of September, passing, on the

way, through Falkland, where her father had died. Knox was much distressed

at the manifestation of the popular feeling in favour of Mary during this

journey. He consoles himself by saying, that she polluted the towns

through which she passed with her idolatry; and in allusion to the

accident at Stirling, remarks, "Fire followed her very commonly on that


It was, perhaps, to counteract, in some degree, the impression which

Mary's affability and beauty had made upon her subjects, that soon after

her return to Edinburgh, a very singular proclamation was issued by the

civil authorities of that town. It was couched in the following

terms:--"October 2. 1561. On which day the Provost, Baillies, Council, and

all the Deacons, perceiving the Priests, Monks, Friars, and others of the

wicked rabble of the Anti-Christ the Pope, to resort to this town,

contrary to the tenor of a previous proclamation; therefore ordain the

said proclamation, charging all Monks, Friars, Priests, Nuns, Adulterers,

Fornicators, and all such filthy persons, to remove themselves out of this

town and bounds thereof, within twenty-four hours, under the pain of

carting through the town, burning on the cheek, and perpetual

banishment." The insult offered to the Sovereign of the realm, by thus

attempting to confound the professors of the old religion with the most

depraved characters in the country, was too gross to be allowed to pass

unnoticed. Mary did not bring these bigoted magistrates to trial,--she did

not even imprison them, but with much mildness, though with no less

firmness, she ordered the Town-Council instantly to deprive the Provost

and Baillies of the offices they held, and to elect other better qualified

persons in their stead.

During the remainder of the year 1561, the only public affairs of

consequence, were the appointment of the Lord James as the Queen's

Lieutenant on the Borders, where he proceeded to hold courts, and

endeavoured, by great severity and many capital punishments, to reduce the

turbulent districts to something like order; and the renewal on the part

of Queen Elizabeth of the old dispute concerning the treaty of Edinburgh.

Mary, having now had the benefit of advice from her Council, without

directly refusing what Elizabeth asked, gave her, in pretty plain terms,

to understand, that she could never think of signing away her hereditary

title and interest to the Crown of England. "We know," she says, in a

letter she wrote to Elizabeth on the subject, "how near we are descended

of the blood of England, and what devices have been attempted to make us,

as it were, a stranger from it. We trust, being so nearly your cousin, you

would be loth we should receive so manifest an injury, as entirely to be

debarred from that title, which, in possibility, may fall to us."

Most of Mary's French friends had, by this time, returned home. Her uncle,

the Marquis D'Elbeuf, however, remained all winter with her. In losing the

Duke of Danville, Mary lost one of her warmest admirers; but it appears,

that from his being already married, (though he could have obtained a

divorce,) and from other considerations, Mary rejected his addresses. Many

foreign princes were suing for the honour of her alliance, among whom were

Don Carlos of Spain, the Archduke Charles of Austria, the King of Sweden,

the Duke of Ferrara, and the Prince of Conde; but Mary did not yet see the

necessity of an immediate marriage. Among her own subjects, there were two

who ventured upon confessing their attachment, and nourishing some hopes

that she might be brought to view it propitiously. These were the Earl of

Arran, already mentioned, and Sir John Gordon, second son of the Earl of

Huntly. The former of these Mary never liked; and though the latter far

excelled him in accomplishments, both of body and mind, she does not seem

to have given him encouragement either. Inspired by mutual jealousy, these

noblemen, of course, detested each other; but Arran was the more factious

and absurd. Having taken offence at some slights which he supposed had

been offered him, he had retired to St Andrews, where he was believed, by

those who knew his restless temperament, to be hatching sedition. Upon one

occasion--a Sunday night in November--just before the Queen had retired to

bed, a report was suddenly spread through the palace, that Arran had

crossed the water at the head of a strong body of retainers, and was

marching direct for Holyroodhouse, with the intention of carrying off the

Queen to Dumbarton Castle, which was in the possession of his father, or

to some other place of strength. This report, which gained credit, it was

scarcely known how, excited the greatest alarm. Mary's friends collected

round her with as much speed as possible; the gates were closed, and the

Lords remained in arms within the court all night. Arran did not make his

appearance, and the panic gradually subsided,--though the nobles

determined to keep guard every night for some time. This is the foundation

of the assertion made by some writers, that Mary kept a perpetual body

guard, which, unfortunately, she never did during the whole of her reign.

The Duke of Chatelherault, who came to Court soon after, alleged, that the

rumour which had gained credence against his son, was only a manoeuvre

of his enemies; and though his son's conduct was, on all occasions,

sufficiently outre, it is not unlikely that this allegation was true.

Another tumult, which soon afterwards occurred, shows how difficult it

was, at this time, to preserve quietness and good order. It had been

reported among the more dissolute nobles, that the daughter of a

respectable merchant in Edinburgh, was the chere amie of the Earl of

Arran. Bothwell, always at home in any affair of this kind, undertook to

introduce the Marquis D'Elbeuf to the lady; Lord John, brother of the

Commendator of St Andrews, was also of the party. They went to her house

the first night in masks, and were admitted, and courteously entertained.

Returning next evening, they were disappointed to find, that the object of

their admiration refused to receive their visits any longer. They

proceeded, therefore, to break open the doors, and to create much

disturbance in the house and neighbourhood. Next day the Queen was

informed of their disorderly conduct, and she rebuked them sharply. But

Bothwell and the Lord John, animated partly by their dislike to the house

of Hamilton, and partly by a turbulent spirit of contradiction, declared

they would repeat their visit the very next night in despite of either

friend or foe. Their intentions being understood, the servants of the Duke

of Chatelherault and Arran thought themselves called upon to defend a lady

whom their masters patronized. They assembled accordingly with jack and

spear in the streets, determined to oppose force to force. Bothwell wished

for nothing else, and collected his friends about him in his own lodgings.

The opposite party, however, increased much more rapidly than his, and

began to collect in a threatening manner before his house. The magistrates

saw the necessity of interfering; the alarm-bell was rung, and despatches

were sent off to Holyrood, to know what course was to be taken. The Earls

of Argyle and Huntly, together with the Lord James, joined the civic

authorities, and, proceeding out to the mob, made proclamation, that all

men should instantly depart on pain of death. This had the desired effect;

the streets gradually became quiet, and Bothwell gave up his wild scheme.

Mary, next day, ordered both the Duke of Chatelherault and the Earl of

Bothwell to appear before her. The first came accompanied by a crowd of

Protestants, and the latter with an equal number of Catholics. But the

Queen was not to be over-awed, and having investigated the matter,

Bothwell was banished from Court for ten days.

This was only the prelude to a still more serious difference, which took

place between these untamed and irascible nobles. The Earl of Arran

appeared before the Queen, and declared that a powerful conspiracy had

been formed against the life of the Lord James, upon whom the title of

Earl of Mar, as preliminary to that of Murray, had recently been

conferred. This conspiracy, he said, had originated with himself and his

father, who were beginning to tremble, lest the newly created Earl's

influence with the Queen, might induce her to set aside the Hamilton

succession, in favour of her illegitimate brother. That the Earl of Mar

had really proposed some such arrangement, seems to be established on good

authority. The Earl of Huntly, together with Mar's old enemy,

Bothwell, had been induced by the Hamiltons to join in this plot. The

intention was, to shoot the Earl of Mar when hunting with the Queen, to

obtain for the Hamiltons his authority in the government, and to give the

Catholic party greater weight in the state. Huntly's eldest son, the Lord

Gordon, was also implicated in Arran's confession. A few days before the

whole of these plans were to be carried into execution, the weak and

vacillating Arran, according to his own declaration, had been seized with

remorse of conscience; and, actuated by his ancient friendship for Mar,

and his love for the Queen, determined on disclosing every thing.

Historians seem to have been puzzled, what degree of dependence they

should place upon the truth of this strange story, told by one who was

already half crazed, and soon afterwards altogether insane. That there is

good reason, however, for giving credit to his assertions, is evident,

from the manner in which all contemporary writers speak, and the fact,

that the Queen sent both him and Bothwell to prison. When the affair was

further investigated, it was found to involve so many of the first

nobility of the land, and among others, Arran's own father,

Chaltelherault, whom he could never be expected publicly to accuse, that

Mary resolved not to push matters to extremity against any one. She

ordered the Duke of Chatelherault, however, to deliver up the Castle of

Dumbarton; and, at the Earl of Mar's instigation, she kept Bothwell a

prisoner, first in the Castle of St Andrews, and afterwards in that of

Edinburgh, until he made his escape, and left the country for upwards of

two years. It is remarkable, that this conspiracy should not have been

hitherto dwelt upon at greater length, tending as it does to develope the

secret motives by which the Earl of Mar was actuated in his subsequent

feuds with the Earl of Huntly. It is worth recollecting too, though

the fact has not been previously noticed, that this was the first

occasion on which Bothwell aimed at making himself master of the Queen's

person. The design, though unsuccessful, shows the spirit which long

continued to actuate him. Had Mary fallen into his hands at this period,

it is not likely that she would ever have had it in her power to marry

Darnley, and the whole complexion of her fate might have been changed.

In February 1562, Mary gave a series of splendid entertainments, on the

occasion of the marriage of her favourite brother, James. He was then in

the thirty-first year of his age, and chose for his wife Lady Agnes Keith,

eldest daughter of the Earl of Marschal. The marriage was solemnized in

the church of St Giles; and Knox took advantage of the occasion, to offer

the Lord James a wholesome, but somewhat curiously expressed advice;

"for," said the preacher to him, "unto this day has the kirk of God

received comfort by you, and by your labours; in the which, if hereafter

you shall be found fainter than you were before, it will be said that your

wife has changed your nature." Knox and his friends were subsequently much

scandalized by "the greatness of the banquetting, and the vanity thereof,"

which characterized the honeymoon. The issue of this marriage was three

daughters, two of whom married Scotch noblemen, and the third died


In August 1562, Mary commenced the progress into the North, which, in so

far as some of her principal nobility were concerned, was attended with

such very important consequences.

In The Web Loch Leven Castle facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail