John Knox is remembered as the major force in the Scottish Reformation. The course of the Reformation in that country is preceded by a few crucial political events. Henry VII, the Tudor king had a daughter named Margaret. She married James IV of Scotland, providing a closer relationship between Scotland and England. Traditionally, Scotland loved to ally herself with France against the English, but not in this instance. It did, however, foster that relationship again when the son of James IV and Margaret, James V, married Mary of Guise rather than agree to a betrothal with the daughter of Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon, Mary. Scotland became linked then, with two countries with competing interests and who produced some influential women.
Henry's daughter Mary, who would become "Bloody Mary" took the throne when Henry's son Edward died. When Mary died, another woman took the throne, Elizabeth I. The daughter of James V and Mary of Guise was Mary Stuart. She married the French Dauphin at the age of 18 and became Queen of France, Scotland and she claimed she was the English Queen as well, due to her relationship with Henry through his sister Margaret. The intensity of this rivalry was made worse due to the fact that the Stuarts were Catholic, Spain was Catholic, France was Catholic, and Elizabeth I was Protestant.
Along came John Knox, a Scottish Protestant. Reformation thought had made its to Scotland through individuals who had been abroad and then returned having been influenced by Lollards, Hussites and Lutherans. The Scottish Parliament forbade any Reforming initiatives, and persecution broke out. Knox fled the country, and in the process, found himself prisoner on a French galley for 19 months. After his release from the French, with the assistance of the young Edward, Henry's son, Knox became a chaplain at the English court. This was not to last long, because Mary Tudor succeeded her half-brother upon his death. Knox then went to Geneva where his Reformation theology was further developed. After his time in Geneva, he returned to Scotland.
While in exile, Knox wrote a book called The First Blast of the Trumpet Against the Monstrous Regiment of Women. This was an attack against ruling women in Europe. In his book, he says:
“Divine law and natural law opposes the rule of women over men. Therefore men in England and Scotland are obeying women rulers against God. Wherefore I judge them not only subjects to women but slaves to Satan and servants of iniquity.”
He spoke against not only Mary Stuart, but her mother, the regent, and he spoke of Mary Tudor of England. While his views certainly indicated his position with regard to women rulers, his work also spoke out against the Roman church. He had seen the progress of Protestantism in Geneva; he longed to have his own country able to proceed along a similar path, and he saw these ruling women as an impediment to that process. Unfortunately, the book alienated Elizabeth I who found it quite offensive, and hindered an alliance which could have been valuable to Knox. Perhaps this is one of the contributing factors to the fact that English reform was more episcopal in nature than it was in Scotland.
Mary Stuart took the throne of Scotland around the same time as Knox returned there. Knox had five meetings with the Queen. He was convinced that if she saw the error of the Catholic Church and converted, progress for Protestantism would follow. She resisted. She had mass served privately in her quarters. There is a famous confrontation between the two of them where Mary demanded of Knox: "What are you in this commonwealth?" Knox answered:
"A subject born within the same, and although I am neither earl, lord or baron in it, yet God has made me a profitable member in the same, and both my vocation and conscience require plainness of me."
That was quite a democratic-sounding response in an age of monarchy. Ultimately, however, Mary's downfall was largely at her own making. Her cousin Elizabeth had her executed eventually, and Scottish reform continued in the Protestant direction.
I found it quite interesting the effect women had on the course reform despite the fact that women were not powerful within the Church. Women do influence things for good and for bad, even if it is in subtle ways. I continue to find it interesting how very important political alliances were for the Church at this point in history. We here in 2009 squirm at the prospect of our governments stalling religious reform. And yet, it seems as if they are getting involved in such things again, although indirectly, through "hate crime" legislation and the protection of "civil rights." It's kind of daunting to think about.