Thursday, 24 March 2016

Knox and Foxe get knocks from Cox

If you’ve read C. S. Lewis’s Pilgrim’s Regress, you’ll know that the Northern Irish Presbyterianism of his childhood was rather forbidding. Now, pretty much the main founding father of Scottish Presbyterianism was, of course, John Knox (1513–1572). When Lewis comes to discuss John Knox in English Literature in the Sixteenth Century, he gives Knox a very fair hearing: showing as always his ability to set aside his own preferences and imagine his way into the minds of writers in the past, even ones with whom he might not entirely sympathize. Knox is so interesting that I think I shall need two blogs for him. Let’s start, then, with a list of six little known facts about Knox.

1. Knox is famous for writing The First Blast of the Trumpet against the Monstruous Regiment of Women. I hope it’s not a little known fact that monstruous (yes, with a U in the middle) means ‘contrary to the natural order’ and regiment means ‘the action of ruling over other people’: so it doesn’t mean ‘the huge army of females’.

2. Did you know that Knox was once a galley slave? On 31 July 1547 a French force captured the castle of St Andrew’s where Knox was chaplain to the Protestant garrison and he and the defeated Scottish noblemen were chained to benches in the French galleys and forced to row to France, where they were imprisoned.

3. Did you know that during Edward VI’s reign (1549–53), Knox, then in exile in England, engaged in a controversy with Archbishop Cranmer? Knox and others wanted Holy Communion to be received sitting: they regarded kneeling as idolatrous. As a result the once (in)famous ‘Black Rubric’ (explaining why kneeling was OK) was added to the Second Prayer Book. Elizabeth I left it out of her Prayer Book (1559), and debate about what theologians called the ‘table gesture’ went on throughout the seventeenth century.

4. During Queen Mary’s reign, numerous Protestant leaders went into exile on the Continent. When John Foxe (of Book of Martyrs fame) came to Frankfurt in 1554 to serve as preacher for the English church he found himself unwillingly drawn into an acrimonious controversy. One faction favoured the Book of Common Prayer, the other advocated worship similar to that of Calvin’s Genevan church. Did you know that the latter group, supported by Foxe, was led by John Knox, while the former was led by Richard Cox? Eventually, Cox & co. forced the departure of Knox & Foxe & co. Really Dr Seuss should have been there!

5. Did you know that Knox wrote his First Blast in Geneva? He spent two and a half very happy years (1556–9) there, and described it as ‘the most perfect school of Christ that ever was in the earth since the days of the apostles’.

6. Did you know that Knox was one of the ‘six Johns’ appointed by the Scottish Parliament in 1560 to draw up a plan for church governance called the First Book of Discipline? The scheme was to be funded from the revenues confiscated from the old church, but these were now in the hands of the nobles, and unfortunately they did not want to give them up, so the new church was drastically underfunded. Plus ça change…
John Knox’s House, Edinburgh


  1. Fascinating as always. I like be this insight into Knox's life. Thank you

  2. I learn so much from your blogs - thank you.

  3. It was 'the monstruous REGIMEN of women' (no T).
    Regimen is Latin for rule and became regime (acute accent on the first e but can't do that here) in Old/Middle French and found its way into modern English to replace regimen, which means rule. Here endeth the philology lesson!