A Short Biographical Dictionary of English Literature/Knox, John

Knox, John (1505?-1572). -- Reformer and historian, was b. near Haddington, and ed. at the Grammar School there and at Glasgow. He is believed to have had some connection with the family of K. of Ranfurly in Renfrewshire. The year of his birth was long believed to be 1505, but of late some writers have found reason to hold that he was really b. some years later, 1510 or even 1513. At Glasgow he was the pupil of John Major (q.v.), and became distinguished as a disputant. He is believed to have been ordained a priest about 1530, after which he went to St. Andrews and taught. About this time, however, there is a gap of 12 years or more, during which almost nothing is known of his life. About 1545 he came page 225under the influence of George Wishart, who was burned as a heretic at St. Andrews in the following year, and embraced the Reformation principles, of which he became a champion on the Continent, in England, and finally and especially in Scotland. He joined the reforming party in St. Andrews in 1547, and was, much against his will, elected their minister. The next year he was made prisoner, sent to France, and condemned to the galleys, where he remained for nearly two years. For the next five years he was in England, chiefly at Newcastle and Berwick, where he was zealously engaged in propagating and defending the reformed doctrines. On the accession of Mary in 1553 K. escaped to the Continent, where he remained -- at Dieppe, Frankfort on the Maine, and Geneva -- until 1559. During this period, in addition to his pastoral and ecclesiastical activities, he wrote copiously, the best known of his works of that time being his [[First Blast of the Trumpet against the Monstrous Regiment [government] of Women]]. The first, it proved also the last, as he never produced the other two which he promised or threatened. He finally returned to Scotland in 1559, and was at once the chief actor and the chief narrator of the crowded and pregnant events which culminated in the abdication of Queen Mary and the establishment of Protestantism in Scotland. As minister of the High Church of Edin. K. was at the centre of events, which he probably did more to mould than any other man. As Carlyle says, "He is the one Scotchman to whom, of all others, his country and the world owe a debt." Here, after his long battle with principalities and powers, and spiritual wickedness in high places, his triumphs, and disappointments, after growing weakness and becoming "weary of the world," he d. on November 24, 1572. His place in literature he has by virtue of his Historie of the Reformation in Scotland. It extends from 1558-67.

Its language is much more English than that spoken and written in Scotland at the time. It is of the highest historical value, and in style terse, vigorous, with flashes of a quiet, somewhat saturnine humour, and of vivid description -- the writing of a great man of action dealing with the events in which he had been the leading actor. His own figure and that of the Queen are those round which the drama turns. The leading features of his character were courage and intense earnestness. "Here," said the Regent Morton, "lies a man who never feared the face of man." And with all his sternness there was in him a vein of cordial friendliness and humour. He has been accused of intolerance, and of harshness in his dealings with the Queen. But as Carlyle has said, as regards the second accusation, "They are not so coarse, these speeches; they seem to me about as fine as the circumstances would permit. It was unfortunately not possible to be polite with the Queen of Scotland unless one proved untrue to the nation."

Lives by M'Crie (1812), and Prof. Hume Brown (1895). Works ed. by D. Laing.