John Knox

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Related to John Knox: John Calvin, John Wesley, Martin Luther
John Knox
Birthplacein or near Haddington, East Lothian, Kingdom of Scotland
Pastor, author, reformer

Knox, John,

1514?–1572, Scottish religious reformer, founder of Scottish PresbyterianismPresbyterianism,
form of Christian church organization based on administration by a hierarchy of courts composed of clerical and lay presbyters. Holding a position between episcopacy (government by bishops) and Congregationalism (government by local congregation),
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Early Career as a Reformer

Little is recorded of his life before 1545. He probably attended St. Andrews Univ., where he may have become acquainted with some of the new Protestant doctrines. He entered the Roman Catholic priesthood, however, and from 1540 to 1544 was engaged as an ecclesiastical notary and as a private tutor.

By late 1545 Knox had attached himself closely to the reformer George WishartWishart, George
, 1513?–1546, Scottish religious reformer, Protestant martyr. He was master of a grammar school in Montrose. In 1538 he fled Scotland to escape charges of heresy; he was in England for a short time, then on the Continent.
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. When, after Wishart's execution (1546), a group of Protestant conspirators took revenge by murdering Cardinal David BeatonBeaton or Bethune, David
, 1494–1546, Scottish churchman, cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church. He was made cardinal in 1538 and succeeded his uncle, James Beaton, as archbishop of St.
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, Knox, now definitely a Protestant, took refuge with them in St. Andrews Castle and preached in the parish church. Attacked by both Scottish and French forces, the castle was eventually surrendered (1547), and Knox served 19 months in the French galleys before his release (1549) through the efforts of the English government of Edward VI.

Knox spent the next few years in England, preaching in Berwick and Newcastle as a licensed minister of the crown and serving briefly as a royal chaplain. He helped to prepare the second Book of Common Prayer, but he declined a bishopric in the newly established Church of England.

Years in Exile

Shortly after the accession (1553) of the Catholic Mary I to the English throne, Knox went into exile on the Continent, living chiefly in Geneva and Frankfurt. In Geneva he consulted with John CalvinCalvin, John,
1509–64, French Protestant theologian of the Reformation, b. Noyon, Picardy. Early Life

Calvin early prepared for an ecclesiastical career; from 1523 to 1528 he studied in Paris.
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 on questions of church doctrine and civil authority.

Meanwhile, through his frequent letters, he exerted considerable influence among Protestants in England and Scotland; in his "Faithful Admonition" pamphlet of 1554 he began to urge the duty of the righteous to overthrow "ungodly" monarchs. In 1555–56 he visited Scotland, preaching in private and counseling the Protestant congregations. After his return to Geneva, where he served (1556–58) as pastor to the English congregation, he wrote the First Blast of the Trumpet against the Monstrous Regiment [i.e., regimen] of Women. That fiery tract was directed against the Catholic Mary of GuiseMary of Guise
, 1515–60, queen consort of James V of Scotland and regent for her daughter, Mary Queen of Scots. The daughter of Claude de Lorraine, duc de Guise, she was also known as Mary of Lorraine.
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, regent of Scotland, and Queen Mary of England, but it also alienated the Protestant Elizabeth I, who succeeded to the English throne in 1558.

The Scottish Reformation

In 1557 the Scottish Protestant nobles signed their First Covenant, banding together to form the group known as the lords of the congregation (see Scotland, Church ofScotland, Church of,
the established national church of Scotland, Presbyterian (see Presbyterianism) in form. The first Protestants in Scotland, led by Patrick Hamilton, were predominantly Lutheran.
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). When, in 1559, Mary of Guise moved against the Protestants, the lords of the congregation took up arms and invited Knox back from Geneva to lead them. Aided by England and by the regent's death in 1560, the reformers forced the withdrawal of the French troops that had come to Mary's aid and won their freedom as well as dominance for the new religion.

Under Knox's direction, a confession of faith (basically Calvinist) was drawn up (1560) and passed by the Scottish Parliament, which also passed laws abolishing the authority of the pope and condemning all creeds and practices of the old religion. The Book of Discipline, however, which provided an organizational structure for the new church, failed to get adequate approval from the nobles in 1561.

When Mary Queen of ScotsMary Queen of Scots
(Mary Stuart), 1542–87, only child of James V of Scotland and Mary of Guise. Through her grandmother Margaret Tudor, Mary had the strongest claim to the throne of England after the children of Henry VIII.
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 arrived from France to assume her crown in the same year, many Protestant lords deserted Knox and his cause, and some even joined the queen. From his pulpit and in personal debates with Mary on questions of theology and the loyalty owed by the subject to his monarch, Knox stubbornly defied Mary's authority and thundered against her religion. The queen's marriage to Lord Darnley, her suspected complicity in his murder, and her hasty marriage to James Hepburn, earl of Bothwell, stirred the Protestant lords to revolt. Mary was forced to abdicate (1567) in favor of her young son, James VI. All the acts of 1560 were then confirmed, thereby establishing Presbyterianism as the official religion.

Despite the ill health of his last years, Knox continued to be an outspoken preacher until his death. It has been said of Knox that "rarely has any country produced a stronger will." His single-minded zeal made him the outstanding leader of the Scottish Reformation and an important influence on the Protestant movements in England and on the Continent, but the same quality tended to close his mind to divergent views. His History of the Reformation in Scotland, finished in 1564 but published in 1584 after his death, is a striking record of that conflict, but includes a number of misstatements and omissions resulting from his strong bias.


The standard edition of Knox's works is that edited by D. Laing (6 vol., 1846–64, repr. 1967). See biographies by E. S. C. Percy (1937, repr. 1965), J. G. Ridley (1968), and W. S. Reid (1974); J. S. McEwen, The Faith of John Knox (1961); S. W. Reid, Trumpeter of God (1974, repr. 1982); G. B. Smith and D. Martin, John Knox: Apostle of the Scottish Reformation (1982).

Knox, John


Born 1505 or circa 1514 near Haddington; died Nov. 24, 1572, in Edinburgh. Leader in the Reformation; founder of the Presbyterian Church in Scotland. Son of a peasant.

Knox was a priest in the 1530’s. In the 1540’s he began delivering sermons in the spirit of Protestantism. He spent the 1550’s abroad; for several years he lived in Geneva, where he became close friends with Calvin, under whose influence his Protestant views took final shape. After returning to Scotland in 1559, he preached Calvinism, which in 1560, by an act of the Scottish Parliament, was declared the state religion. In the 1560’s he became Edinburgh’s main preacher. His fanatic devotion to Calvinism and irreconcilability with Catholicism made him one of the most ardent opponents of the Catholic Scottish queen Mary Stuart. His public statements against Mary Stuart, despite theological externals, expressed antityrannical ideas and exerted an influence on the radical segment of the Scottish Calvinists and the English Independents. He wrote The History of the Reformation in Scotland (published posthumously, 1587).


Works, vols. 1–6. Edinburgh, 1846–64.
The History of the Reformation in Scotland, vols. 1–2. London, 1949.
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This biography helps us to understand how important John Knox was, as well as helping us to understand that the movement for reformation in Scotland went far beyond one man.
Presbyterians may have sketchy knowledge of John Knox and the role he played in overthrowing Roman Catholicism in Scotland and assuring that Presbyterianism, rather than Anglicism, took its place.
On the surface, John Knox's infamous The First Blast of the Trumpet Against the Monstrous Regiment of Women (1558) seems a well-organized polemical treatise whose point is succinctly stated in the opening proposition: "To promote a Woman to beare rule, superioritie, dominion, or empire above any Realme, Nation, or Citie, is repugnant to Nature; contumelie to God, a thing most contrarious to his reveled will and approved ordinance; and finallie, it is the subversion of good Order, of all equitie and justice" (Knox 373).
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Trident director John Knox is pictured with (from back left) Johanna Ray, Jessica Singh, Lisa Corcoran, Vanessa Barrett, Michelle Whitehouse, Nicky Barrett, Rachael Scholes; (from left) Andrew Ainley, Lisa Thomas, Mortima Daly, Theresa Sielski and Deborah Bird.