John Knox and the Women Who Loved Him

Why did these and many other women express so much love toward a man who blew a fierce trumpet against female rulers?

In spite of his formidable life and bold choices, Knox is still largely unknown. Maybe his larger-than-life charisma is the very reason for this neglect. People generally remember blazes and flares. In his case, they remember the blasts of his trumpet against women rulers – especially Mary Queen of Scots, “that cursed Jesabel,” as he called her. In the popular mind, he is a misogynist and a kill-joy. Why then so many intelligent women loved him deeply, confided in him and zealously supported him until the end?

 

Today, the title First Blast of the Trumpet against the monstrous regiment of women evokes images of an approaching army of terrifying woman-like creatures. Its author, John Knox, meant something quite different. It was the title of a short treatise on government (regiment = rule) held by women, a concept he found unnatural (monstrous).

It was not a controversial idea. At that time, most people believed that government was a male prerogative. The biblical examples of women leaders were seen as an indication of the corruption of times when no man could rise to the task.

Most Protestant leaders, however, wouldn’t have expressed their thoughts in such drastic terms. They were concerned about winning rulers – male or female – to their cause, and tempered their words accordingly. But Knox was not a tame man.

His Life

Born in an obscure village in eastern Scotland, Knox made his bold entrance in the annals of history in 1545, at about 31 years of age, holding a two-handed sword in defense of his peer George Wishart, a fervent Reformed preacher in a stubbornly Roman Catholic country. When Wishart was finally captured and executed, Knox, who had been ordained as Roman Catholic priest, served as minister of the Gospel for a group of Protestants who occupied St. Andrews church in protest.

His strong constitution survived the consequence of his actions: 19 months as prisoner on the cruel French galleys. Freed by the English, he clashed with Thomas Cranmer over the Book of Common Prayer, which he considered too popish. Finally, the Church of England assigned him a pastorate in Berwick, a small town near the Scottish border, where he could relate the gospel to the large community of Scottish immigrants (with the added benefit of keeping him away from London).

With the ascension to the throne in 1553 of the Roman Catholic Mary Tudor, Knox moved to the continent, causing a major stir in Frankfurt by comparing the current Emperor Charles V to the Roman Emperor Nero. Ousted by his congregation, he finally settled in Calvin’s Geneva, a city he deeply loved, where he co-pastored a church of English refugees.

In 1559, he returned to Scotland on the insistence of the growing Protestant community in that country. There, he found that the group of Protestants had grown to become theologically and politically strong. Soon he became part of an actual military revolution, which he galvanized with his fierce sermons. After only two years of fighting, Scotland became an official Protestant country.

The Women Around Him

In spite of his formidable life and bold choices, Knox is still largely unknown. Maybe his larger-than-life charisma is the very reason for this neglect. People generally remember blazes and flares. In his case, they remember the blasts of his trumpet against women rulers – especially Mary Queen of Scots, “that cursed Jesabel,” as he called her. In the popular mind, he is a misogynist and a kill-joy.

Why then so many intelligent women loved him deeply, confided in him and zealously supported him until the end?

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