John Knox, the "Thundering Scot", was one of the key figures in the Protestant Reformation of Scotland. The reforms Knox personally brought about or directly influenced weren't limited merely to religion, but to almost all aspects of life in Scotland.
Although Knox's exact birthdate is unknown, it is generally agreed that he was born some time in 1514. Ironically, at one point he was an ordained priest, but that was because at the time that was the normal route to government service. Knox then came under the tutelage of George Wisehart, who enlisted him in the "cause". In 1546, Wisehart was arrested and burned as a heretic by Cardinal Beaton, the nephew of the Archbishop who had sentenced Patrick Hamilton to death exactly 18 years prior.
Just as with Hamilton, the burning of Wisehart had the opposite of the intended effect. Instead of halting the Reformation, it furthered it by making Wisehart a martyr and redoubling the convictions of his followers. Within a few weeks, the Cardinal was killed by several Scottish nobles, who took over possession of Beaton's St. Andrews castle and asked Knox to be their chaplain. Knox agreed and this arrangement lasted for a little while, until the castle and its inhabitants were captured by French troops.
After his capture, Knox spent nearly a year and a half as a French galley slave before he was finally released and went to England. The English welcomed him and he preached there for 5 years, but became once again an exile with the rise to power of Mary Tudor. Knox wandered for several years after this, travelling to John Calvin's Geneva and Frankfurt. He did make brief returns to Scotland during this time, but it wasn't until a full 13 years after being captured by the French that he returned home permanently.
During his absence, and in part due to his visits, Protestantism had firmly taken hold in Scotland when Knox finally returned. There were still obstacles left for him to face, however, the primary one being Mary, Queen of Scots. Knox had never attempted to hide his animosity for Mary and her family, in fact his book, The First Blast of the Trumpet Against the Monstrous Regiment of Women, was clearly a criticism of Mary of Guise (Mary's mother), Mary Queen of Scots herself, and Mary Tudor.
The Queen of Scots was by far Knox's most dangerous enemy, causing him to briefly flee the country (before his permanent return) shortly after she first set foot on Scottish soil. He returned soon after, requesting and receiving an audience with the Queen. The two had several very lively debates, the results of which show that Knox came out on top. Five years after first landing in Scotland, Mary was forced to abdicate, fleeing to England and leaving her infant son James on the throne.
Knox's views differed somewhat from those of his fellow Reformers, and he ended up at odds with them several times. He did eventually go on to form his own branch of Protestantism when he founded the Presbyterian Church.
In addition to being one of the leaders of the Scottish Reformation, the father of Presbyterianism, and a very effective public speaker, John Knox effected several other reforms. He was a devout advocate of education, welfare and land reform. And although many of these things didn't come about until long after his death in 1572, Knox still can be counted as one of their architects.
SBB, November 1999
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