Who was the real John Knox? And why does it matter today?
To answer this question, The From Rome Blog republishes, with permission the Essay by Frank Dougan, on Edwin Muir’s Knox: an exposé of the person and life of the “Reformer” of the Catholic Church in Scotland in the 16th century.
Edwin Muir’s, John Knox.
by Frank Dougan
I found a copy of Edwin Muir’s book ( John Knox ) at The Andersonian Library within Strathclyde University where I was studying Scottish History.
I tried to obtain this book from City of Glasgow Libraries to no avail.
First published by Lowe and Brydone Ltd. London in 1929 “The Life and Letters Series No. 12.” ( John Knox: Portrait of a Calvinist. ) I find much of Muir’s work sympathetic to Knox, Robert Burns is quoted on the opening pages as writing; ‘Orthodox ! orthodox, wha believe in John Knox, Let me sound an alarm to your conscience’.
Edwin Muir wrote his preface;
‘For this biography I have gone chiefly to the writings of Knox himself, and to the usual contemporary records. The Reverend Dr. M’ Crie’s and Professor Hume Brown’s Lives have also been of help, but my particular gratitude is due to Andrew Lang’s ( John Knox and the Reformation ) the one biography I have found which attempts to be critical.
My reading of Knox’s life disagrees with that of most of his other biographers since M’Crie. It is on the whole supported, however, by the eighteenth century estimate represented by David Hume and Burns.
If I show bias it is not, at any rate, theological bias.
The object of this book is somewhat different from that of the biographies which I have mentioned: it is to give a critical account of a representative Calvinist and Puritan.
The temper in which I have attempted this may perhaps best be described as realistic; I have attempted to tell in contemporary terms how a typical Calvinist and Puritan lived, felt and thought.
With the historical figure I am not particularly concerned’.
As one may note the date of publication was similar to D. H. Lawrence’ banned book and at the height of Catholic persecution in Scotland at the hands of John White the Church of Scotland’s sectarian and racist moderator.
I will relate to a few examples from Muir he writes about Knox;
‘Between 1540 and 1543 we find him engaged as an ecclesiastical notary, and up to March of 1543 he was certainly in the Catholic Church.
Of the life he led during this time his fellow reformers tell us not a word, but the Catholics maintain that he was notorious for his immorality, and even assert that he was guilty of committing adultery with his step-mother ( his father’s second wife ). Such is the early Knox as history and scandal disclose him.
Archibald Hamilton claimed that Knox was distinguished as a young man by his licentiousness; that he had always three whores at his heels; and that moreover, he committed adultery with his step-mother.
There is finally the question whether or not Knox had any hand in the Rizzio murder. The evidence that he had is once more contained in one letter from Randolph to Cecil. In this letter Randolph gives a list of the accomplices of the murderers, and another marked ‘ all at the death of Davy and privy thereunto’.
At the bottom of this is written ‘ John Knox, John Craig, preachers’. It has been adduced as a confirmation of Knox’s guilt that he fled from Edinburgh on the same day as the murderers’.
Muir describes what was a new development in the life of Knox;
‘ At Berwick, too, one of those friendships with women began, which were to play such a great part in Knox’s life. In his congregation was a certain “ Mrs. Bowes”, the wife of Richard Bowes of Norham Castle, a fort about six miles up the Tweed.
She was the mother of five sons and ten daughters.
Her husband was not in favour of the new doctrines; her family, too, were in the main cold.
Her fifth daughter, Marjory, (13) came with her to hear the sermon, and presently the preacher ( Knox ) and the young girl became engaged.
She ( Mrs. Bowes ) was probably about fifty when Knox became intimate with her, till then Knox had thought that no creature had ever been as tempted as he; the beloved mother ( of fifteen children ) pursued him wherever he went with vivid descriptions of her fleshly weaknesses’.
I know I have related to these subjects on earlier passages by other writers though I feel that I must introduce Muir’s work and perhaps draw some conclusions as to why the Church of Scotland’s appointed fault finder Harry Reid takes pain to advise readers of (Outside Verdict) not to read Edwin Muir’s ( John Knox ) biography.
Harry Reid was a director with the Sunday Herald’s ‘Book Review’.
Strangely one has to search for this book as there doesn’t seem to be many copies around Glasgow libraries perhaps the publishers should re-print and let the world see why the former editor of the Glasgow based broadsheet the Herald advises censorship.
Edwin Muir writes about letters from Knox to Mrs. Bowes and vice-versa:
‘ When he was deprived of the comfort of her ‘ corporal presence’ Mrs Bowes fulfilled the conditions to perfection. She was older than he, she was already his prospective mother-in-law. His pride would have recoiled from an intimacy in which he received reassurance and gave none. He could luxuriate in the voluptuous relief which her weakness provided’.
The Protestant Church, that Knox founded, chained people by the neck and castigated them in the most horrendous manner for sexual discrepancies…. yet Scotland’s greatest hero as Harry Reid calls him….
Muir continues his examination of Knox’s correspondence:
‘ My wicked heart loveth the self, and cannot refrain from vain imaginations’.
Writing to Mrs. Bowes that his heart was ‘ infected with foul lusts’ she was beset by the recondite sins of Sodom and Gomorra, was a strange repository for Knox’s imperative confessions.
Fear was to become an instrument in his hands, an instrument which he rarely laid aside, and which sometimes got beyond his control.
He threatened when he could make good his threats; he threatened still more wildly when he could not. He threatened his friends when they disagreed with him; he threatened his enemies when they could afford to laugh at him. He threatened Mary ( Tudor ) of England when he was flying from her; he threatened Elizabeth when he hoped to get a favour out of her. Where insensibility was shown in his threatenings, he took refuge in hatred.
Three women, Mary of England, Mary of Guise, and Mary Stuart, were unimpressed by his lightenings; he revenged himself by slander and prophecies of plagues where he could not by civil wars’.
The more I research the life of John Knox I continuously have to reassure myself that Protestants and Presbyterians really believe that this man was a Christian?
Muir goes on:
‘ Ever since he had met Wishart nine years before Knox had been in the habit of prophesying. He prophesied on grave and on trifling occasions; he prophesied reasonably and unreasonably; he prophesied above all wherever he could not get his own way; he prophesied against Sir Robert Bowes because Sir Robert would not accept him as a suitor for 13 year old Marjory’s hand.
The prophecies arose to wild heights of fantasy; in ideal conditions he contemplated an orderly and exhaustive slaughter of the Catholics. Then the prophet had become the man; now all the passions, all the envies, the hatreds, the cruelties of the man were triumphantly subsumed in the prophet. These passions, envies hatreds, cruelties, by the same transmutation became the passions, envies, hatred, cruelties of God.
His search for God and for comfort, his perplexity over why he had fled ( from England ) his rage of resentment tipped him sheer into abysses of self-deception touched with Sadism which no other reformer had plumbed.
At their most grandiose his prophecies about the future of England were almost like the ravings of a madman.
Edwin Muir was an academic, novelist, poet, Norton Professor of English at Harvard University, he had also been Director of the British Council at Prague in 1946 and Rome in 1949, he has a long list of distinguished works to his credit with major book publishers which can be viewed on the web.
His book on John Knox should be read by anyone wishing to investigate Reformation history particularly the mis-doings of Knox’s philosophies.
Professor Muir wrote:
‘ The instrument ( Knox ) had cursed Mary Tudor ( the Queen of England ) and had publicly advised her assassination, Calvin and Bullinger, however, had refused to back him’.
He narrates about Knox at Frankfurt then moves to 1556 Knox had been in Scotland to marry Marjory for the purpose of concealing his affair with her mother Sir Robert Bowes was hunting for them.
Muir goes on:
‘ He arrived in Geneva with Mrs. Knox, Mrs. Bowes a servant, and a pupil called Patrick. He was now married to Marjory, and accordingly we hear nothing more of her, except that she bore him two children, ‘ and then she died’. The same silence henceforth covers the irrepressible Mrs. Bowes ?’
It seemed that Knox had found a safe haven in Geneva with his wife and her mother for a while:
‘ Yet, in spite of all this, in spite of his power in the congregation and the solace of Mrs. Bowes and Mrs Knox’s company, he still longed for the comfort which only other men’s wives, it seemed, could give him in full measure.
‘Ye wrote that your desire is earnest to see me’ he said in a letter to Mrs. Locke in London, a few months after he had settled in Geneva with his family.
‘ Dear sister, ( he addressed Marjory the same in his letter to her ) if I could express the thirst and languor which I have for your presence, I shall appear to pass measure. Yea, I weep and rejoice in remembrance of you; but that would evanish by the comfort of your presence, which I assure you is so dear to evanish by the comfort of your presence’.
What was the comfort which he longed for so earnestly ? It was the same which he had found once in Mrs. Bowes’ friendship, a friendship which, it was clear, however, no longer quite satisfied his needs. His urgent necessity during these years, in fact, seems to have been to surround himself with mothers. He secured Mrs. Bowes already; to secure another a trifling relaxation of principle would surely be justifiable’.
Unfortunately for the millions who have been indoctrinated into Presbyterianism who have had to suffer severe consequences over hundreds of years for any relaxation of principles, as this was a luxury only for their great leader and his disciples.
‘Mrs. Locke came to Geneva in the following May, in spite of the opposition of her ‘ head’ who was left behind in London. She appeared with her son Harry, her daughter Anne, and a maid called Katherine. The adventure began disastrously. Anne died a few days after arriving’.
Knox was about to write his book ( The first blast of the trumpet against the monstrous regiment of women ).
Professor Muir quotes him:
‘ How abominable before God is the empire and rule of a wicked woman, yea, of a traitoress and bastard’.
In this passage Knox is referring to Mary Tudor the Queen of England obviously he saw her as illegitimate. Actually Mary Tudor’s mother was Catherine of Aragon the first queen of Henry V111, she had previously been married to Henry’s elder brother, Prince Arthur, in 1501 ( the marriage allegedly being unconsummated ) and on his death in 1502 she was betrothed to Henry and married him on his accession to the throne in 1509.
Of the six children she bore only Mary survived, desirous of a male heir Henry divorced Catherine contrary to the law of the land regardless if it was also the law of the Church.
Perhaps Knox is referring to Henry and Catherine’s marriage as illegitimate because she had been married to his brother which was also illegal then and the only legitimate heir to the English throne was Mary Stuart whose grand-mother was Henry’s sister.
Professor Muir describes some of Knox’s views on women from his book:
‘ Knox began to look about him anxiously for all those proofs of woman’s infamy which the exordium promised. Man, he found, drawing on his knowledge, was strong and discreet. Woman, on the other hand , was mad and phrenetic. Was it reasonable that the passionate should rule the calm and the strong? Women, moreover, had been known to die of sudden joy, to commit suicide, to betray their country to strangers, and to be so avid of domination that they murdered their husbands and children. Knox reasoned ( about women ) ‘ where there was no head eminent above the rest, but that the eyes were in the hands, the tongue and mouth beneath the belly, and the ears in the feet’.
These are the writings of John Knox if a modern day psychiatrist were to examine these works and not know who the writer was, he could easily be seduced into thinking perhaps this was Adolph Hitler’s ‘struggle’.
Edwin Muir continues his narrative:
‘ Knox’s attitude to woman, it will be seen, sometimes changed with extraordinary rapidity. On Mary Tudor’s accession to the throne he had begged God to illuminate her heart with pregnant gifts of the Holy Ghost and to repress the pride of those who would rebel; after his flight his prayer was to send a Jehu to cut off her days.
When Mary of Guise was behaving with great toleration to the Protestants in Scotland she had been ‘ a princess honourable, endowed with wisdom and graces singularly,’ but now that he had heard about the pasquil she, like all other queens was a monster.
His mother had perhaps died when he was young; he had ‘ known’ his stepmother.
Two mothers were at present waiting for him in Geneva. Mrs. Bowes and Mrs. Locke ( and his child bride ) were obviously not real mothers. Mary of England and Mary of Guise ( and later Mary Stuart ), he was equally convinced, could not be real queens’.
It seems quite clear that Knox betrayed everyone around him including his own father by having an affair with his stepmother and anyone that he came into contact with including Wishart who he was with on the night of his capture, Knox was carrying his sword, Cardinal Beaton, Rizzio, Lord Darnley, Mary Stuart and the women who surrounded him in a Charles Manson maniacal devotion.
Calvin was also betrayed by him on the publication of the ‘First Blast’ as Knox had it secretly printed in Geneva with no writer or publisher’s names Calvin was outraged as condemnation poured upon reformers in Europe.
Professor Muir goes on to report the ideology of ‘Der Fuhrer’ of Scotland’s Presbyterian’s:
‘ Any Protestant had obviously, therefore, the right to kill any Catholic; it was the collective duty of the Protestants, however, to exterminate the Catholics ‘en masse’. His letters from Dieppe showed an ungovernable temper and an imagination delighting in cruelty. His Appellation from Geneva could only be the work of a mind corrupted by a monstrous doctrine. His letter showed not merely an extreme insensibility to human sufferings; it lingered sickeningly in a delighted contemplation of them. To the powerful he counselled violence and cruelty’.
After some months in Dieppe, Knox returned to Scotland when Elizabeth had taken the English throne after Mary Tudor died, and he found himself in the midst of turmoil.
Muir creates a vivid picture of the nobles who were to work with Knox, the professor wrote:
‘ If one were to accept the description of the sexes in ‘The First Blast’, she (Mary of Guise) might stand as the masculine type and Knox himself as the feminine. In the battle between them calmness, self-control, reason, dignity were all on Mary’s side….. frenzy, vituperation and back-biting all on the side of Knox who was a man of notorious probity’.
Muir goes on about the destruction of the Catholic Churches and monasteries after Knox’s return to Scotland he wrote:
‘ The destruction of the religious buildings and works of art in Scotland has been debated by ( Protestant ) historians, antiquarians and theologians at length and with acrimony. Two examples, showing the fluctuations of opinion among Knox’s admirers, may be cited.
Dr. M’Crie’s apology is perhaps the most extra-ordinary.
He begins by treating the matter with elephantine facetiousness.
‘ Antiquarians,’ he said, ‘ have no reason to complain of the ravages of the reformers, who have left them such valuable remains, ( ruins ) and placed them in that very state which awakens in their minds the most lovely sentiments of the sublime and beautiful by reducing them to-ruins. The liberty which the Protestants demanded from the Regent ( Mary of Guise ), in fact, was twofold; they asked leave to worship as they liked, and to pull down monasteries and churches.
By open profession they considered both these claims equally legitimate.
It was only by the grace of God that British Protestants especially Scottish Presbyterians never ruled Italy, France, Spain, Prague, Austria, Russia, Greece etc. with all their wonderful ancient monuments and churches which would have been obliterated and destroyed by the serial Protestant-culture-wreckers who make the Barbarians and Huns look like pacifists.
Professor Hume Brown wrote about the desecration of Scotland’s heritage:
‘ In these blind outbursts, ‘ he said, ‘there was no expression of real religious feeling; it was simply the instinct of plunder, the natural delight in unlicensed action which in ordinary times is kept in check by the steady pressure of law’.
Muir disagrees with Hume Brown by writing;
‘ ( Hume Brown ) contradicts himself in another passage, for those blind outbursts had, he admitted, Knox’s ‘cordial approval’.
The destruction, then was essentially a policy rather than a blind outburst.
It began as early as 1540; it was continued by Paul Methuen, the first man in Scotland to set up a purified Church, Knox set the work going on a large scale.
Andrew Lang says bitterly: ‘The fragments of things beautiful that the Reformers overlooked were destroyed by the ( deranged ) Covenanters’.
A monument to Robert the Bruce among other things was destroyed in the religious frenzy.
Knox was the only reformer of great reputation who encouraged a general destruction of works of art, and he felt his isolation.
Calvin was severe enough in his reprobation of beauty, but robbery and pillage, even of Catholic property, his orderly mind could not abide’.
Professor Muir pursues the Knoxite desecrations:
‘ In his letter to Mrs. Locke he told, as we have seen, how the ‘ brethern had sacked the religious houses in Perth and threatened the priests with death. In his ‘History’ the priests were not threatened, and the looting was the work of the ‘rascal multitude’, not of the brethern. His mind refused to rest under such a monstrous accusation; the whole business in Perth now seemed more confused than ever, but the probability steadily grew that the mob had destroyed the monasteries. When he took up the pen they had destroyed the monasteries’.
The examination of the works, deeds and mind of Knox has baffled Scottish historians on how they could best present a picture of the ‘demented one’ into a picture of a responsible and Christian man whom so many of them depend upon as the founder of the Scottish Presbyterian movement, that they have staked their reputations on because of their involvement within Protestantism and the bitterness and hatred that it requires to keep its leaders in their mansions and palaces that they inhabit, not to forget their dedication to nepotism.
Edwin Muir explains about the (Book of Discipline) and some of his findings he wrote:
‘ Its most fundamental idea was the corruption of man’s nature, and its policy had necessarily, therefore, to be a policy of espionage and repression.
Its sole instrument for keeping or reclaiming its members was punishment.
It was to show its dual qualities to the full in the next century of Scottish history, with its ‘prophets’, its sadistic Kirk Sessions, its instances of intrepid constancy, its intolerance, its murders smiled on, its deeds of moderation execrated, its array of villains and of martyrs, but, above all, its stiff-necked blindness to the more spacious ideas which were moving mankind.
It is symbolical that the Book opened with a command to persecute, and almost closed with a plea for the extension of the scope of Capital punishment, its faults were a lack of understanding, an incapacity for human charity, and, above all, a consciously virtuous determination to compel and humiliate people for the greater glory of God’.
I ploughed my way through mountains of reference books and documents while attending Strathclyde University with other ‘mature’ students of various religious persuasions, I was shocked to hear that in the year 2003 many reasonable Protestants have been led to believe even in recent years that Roman Catholics had an inferior education, and many thought that was the reason why so many Catholics were refused employment with Protestant employers.
One could easily point the finger at Rangers Football club and the many world class Scottish Catholic footballers who were forced to ply their trade in England and abroad, who could have been performing and passing their talents on to Scottish kids, many of these great’s such as Billy Bremner, Joe Jordan, Lou Macari etc. would have been a bonus to Scotland if sectarianism was wiped out not only on sporting arenas, but in the general society where there are countless highly intelligent and well educated Catholics.
How can any nation on earth be successful when a large percentage of its population are discriminated against we have seen the brain drain from Scotland for centuries and the nation is impoverished in so many walks of life.
Professor Muir continues;
‘ As idolatry and adultery became feebler in Scotland, however, adultery rose in importance.
In the next few years there is scarcely a remonstrance of the ministers which does not contain a despairing injunction to Parliament to punish adultery with death’.
There is something that Muir wrote that intrigues me, he wrote that Knox arrived in Geneva with a student named Patrick on another page he writes this statement by John Knox:
‘ That great abuser of this commonwealth, that poltroon and vile knave Davie ( Rizzio ), was justly punished ( stabbed to death in front of 6 months pregnant Mary. Queen of Scots) for abusing of the commonwealth and for his other villainy, which we list not to express, by the council and hands of James Douglas, Earl of Morton, Patrick, Lord Lindsay, and the Lord Ruthven, with other assistors in their company, who all for their just act, and most worthy of praise’.
Was this the Patrick who was with Knox at Geneva that he congratulates for the heinous murder of Rizzio, who as one can clearly see from Knox’s pen that even after Rizzio was dead, the venomous hatred boiling and spitting from the mind of Knox.
If this was the same Patrick then this verifies Randolph’s letter to Cecil over Knox’s guilt in the murder. Muir concludes his biography of Knox and notes these items after he explained his last days he wrote:
‘ The man ( Knox ) who in England proclaimed that subjects were bound to obey their prince; who in Dieppe incited subjects to murder their prince; who in Geneva exhorted the faithful in Scotland to depose their prince; who in Scotland helped to drive one prince after another from the throne while loudly proclaiming his loyalty; who maintained that two brutal murders were admirable in the sight of God, and that a third, less brutal, must be wiped out by the execution of an unfortunate woman ( Mary Stuart ) who had no direct part in it, and whose guilt could not be proved; who pursued that woman to disgrace and destruction.
This man was clearly not that model of consistency and strength which history and his biographers have set before us.
He was rather a man who, when his object required it, was always ready to contradict himself, and used any means which suited him’.
Edwin Muir’s biography of John Knox is not well known in Scotland but thanks to Harry Reid highlighting his name in ( Outside Verdict ) and my determination of finding the copy that I have scrutinised from the Andersonian Library at Strathclyde University.
Professor Muir goes on;
‘ Another thing which may be reasonably attributed to Knox is the Kirk Session.
To describe the sordid and general tyranny which this fearful institution wielded for over two hundred years would be wearisome and would take too long.
It is only necessary to say that the time-honoured Scottish tradition of fornication triumphantly survived all its terrors’.
I have endeavoured to describe the sordid and general tyranny which the fearful institution wielded over Scotland for over four hundred years, along with the lies and propaganda that they have perfected to art form.
On the last pages of his informative biography Muir questions about the first hundred years of Presbyterianism in Scotland he writes that:
‘The ‘nearest-lying country’ could show Shakespeare, Spencer, Jonson, Marlowe, Donne, Milton, in poetry and the drama; Bacon, Browne, Taylor, Claredon, in prose; the beginnings of modern science; and music, architecture, philosophy, theology, oratory in abundance’.
Caustically Muir asks:
‘ Was it the influence of Calvinism which preserved Scotland from that infection’ ?
The infection of culture, arts, academia and every form of human enjoyment and liberty had been obliterated from Scottish society except for those who maintained the evil philosophies such as the leaders of Presbyterianism who are still trying to enforce these doctrines of oppression.
Edwin Muir continues with his conclusion:
‘ Calvinism, in the first place, was a “faith” which insisted with exclusive force on certain human interests, and banned all the rest.
It lopped off from religion music, painting and sculpture, and pruned architecture to a minimum; it frowned on all prose and poetry which was not sacred.
Calvinism in short, was a narrow specialised “kind of religion”, but it was also a peculiar religion- a religion which outraged the imagination, and no doubt helped, therefore, to produce that captivity of the imagination in Scotland.
Looking down on the island of Great Britain in the century which followed Knox’s death, the Almighty, it seemed, had rejected Shakespeare, Spencer, and Donne, and chosen Andrew Melville, Donald Cargill and Sandy Peden ( John White, Ian Paisley and Jack Glass ).
And if His choice was restricted to the godly, it was equally strange, for He liked the translators of the Scots version of the Psalms, and rejected Herbert, Vaughan and Crashaw’.
Trying to understand Calvinists is a difficult chore especially in the 21st century where it is the Catholics that have all the pressure upon them over divorce, abortion, the birth pill and celibacy yet these issues are enshrined within the Catholic faith, and I don’t notice droves of Catholics flocking to join Protestant Churches which allow all of these questions to be freely accepted, while the Roman Catholics have to deal with the consequences of their conscience.
Protestantism is a follower of fashion and we all realise that there are so many different fashions and tastes as can be witnessed by the hundreds of Protestant sects who claim to be Christian and no doubt the ‘latest’ Jedi-Knights will soon be demanding recognition.
Professor Muir continues:
‘How could the country have avoided its fate of becoming for over a century an object-lesson in savage provincialism?
Hume, Burns, and men like them, it is true, lifted it from its isolation for a time during the next hundred years.What Knox really did was to rob Scotland of all the benefits of the Renaissance.
Scotland never enjoyed these as England did, and no doubt the lack of that immense advantage has had a permanent effect.
It can be felt, I imagine, even at the present day’.
The quotes from Dr. Muir’s biography of John Knox were written during the 1920s when Catholics were being persecuted on the streets of Scotland therefore I feel confident to credit him with first hand on site experience.
The work of Edwin Muir terrifies Presbyterian’s such as Harry Reid even though it was written during the 1920s, this shows the desperation that people such as he and his collaborators are in, because they know that their evil tyranny and subjugation of the Roman Catholic faithful, is about to be trampled into the annuls of extinction.